Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The SEHS From an Intern's Perspective

Maisie O’Malley is a Master’s candidate in Loyola University Chicago’s Public History program.  Public historians study and practice the presentation of historical knowledge to general audiences.  In this post, she reflects on her time spent as a summer intern at SEHS:

It’s Treh-mont, not Tree-mont.  I still catch myself mispronouncing this iconic street’s name even after spending the summer living and working in the South End.  I moved to Boston from Chicago in late May with no preconceptions about the South End.  I walked around the neighborhood, immediately fell in love with the row houses, and started my internship at the South End Historical Society expecting to put my year’s-worth of graduate study to use being a Public Historian.  Here are some of the lessons I learned:

Historical societies are only as good as their staff.  A non-profit historical society faces innumerable challenges, and staff members must be both able historians and creative administrators.  Luckily, Hope and Stacen are talented directors.  Their day-to-day schedules can seem like administrative work—compile the year-end financial report, design a mailing for the House Tour, get the bathroom painted.   When they finally get to do fun history-related projects, like the House Tour or Dirty Old Boston, their work demonstrates an unparalleled passion for the South End.  They go about their jobs with Public History best practice in mind, which ensures that the society remains a credible historical institution.  The Society would lack integrity without skillful historians like Hope and Stacen.  

The Historical Society also benefits from an active Board and members.  When members volunteer to work on a project, organize an event, or simply stuff envelopes for an afternoon, they are investing much more than their time—they invest value into the Society.   Having a strong membership base also provides the Society with a pool of diversely talented people, and when that group is passionate about their neighborhood’s history, everyone benefits.  Member participation is essential to a successful historical society, and SEHS can always rely on a dynamic core of members.  

Lastly, I now understand the important relationship between a community and its history. In graduate school, we often discuss who has agency in the production of history.  Who “does” history?  Who “owns” it?  In my opinion, history truly belongs to the public, and should be produced as such.  An institution like the South End Historical Society becomes a facilitator for that history by being a part of the community.  The community members who participate with SEHS become their own kind of public historians.  It’s something that I don’t believe I could have understood just through class discussion; I had to see it first-hand.  

I lived and worked in the South End for only one summer, but the neighborhood and community made an impression on my perceptions of the public history field.  The lessons I learned from the South End will stay with me for a long time, and I’m excited to get back to Chicago to share my experiences.  I want to thank Hope and Stacen for teaching me so much—about the South End, about running a historical society, and for introducing me to Render.  I would also like to thank the SEHS members who, through their passion for the neighborhood, demonstrated that history is important to people—which also made me feel more secure about employment after grad school.  Thank you for a wonderful summer!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some History Behind the Buildings of the Boston Center for the Arts

The occupies several South End buildings on Tremont Street between Clarendon and Berkeley Streets. Some are historic and some are newer. Before these buildings became part of the BCA, they housed various businesses. I've been thinking about the BCA a lot lately because we just held our Spring Soiree fundraiser there on May 11th. No matter how many times I go into the Cyclorama, I'm always awed by the design and history of the building. The following information is taken from a guide written by our (the SEHS) founding president and long-time historian, Richard O. Card, and kept in our collections at the SEHS.

"The kiosk [outside of the Cyclorama building]...was once the cupola on the Home of the Angel Guardian (designed by Gridley J. F. Bryant) in Roxbury. It was salvaged when that building was demolished in the early 1970s.

Advertisement for the George Frost Company.
From the SEHS collections
The leftmost of the buildings [the one closest to Clarendon St. that is the home of Hamersley's Bistro and the Beehive today]...was built in 1865 by Samuel and Henry Smith. Here they manufactured the Smith American Organ for nearly forty years...Their cases were assembled in a second building, located at 615 Albany Street, which was then near the lumber wharves along the South Bay. The Smiths also tried, less successfully, to manufacture pianos. The main building originally had another floor, with a mansard roof, but it was never restored after an 1885 fire. In 1892 the building was bought by the George Frost Company, which in 1906 extended it at the rear and came to employ some 400 people in the manufacture of the Gentleman's Boston Garter and the Velvet Grip Hose Supporter for ladies. This company remained until the 1940s, when the building came to be used by florists associated with the nearby flower market. Since 1970...this has been a part of the BCA.

Behind...[this] building until 1990 stood the Pennock Building, an...early 20th-century garage, used for some years by the Boston Ballet and Boston Ballet School, as well as by the Community Music Center of Boston. This building was demolished to allow construction of the new home of the Boston Ballet on the site, completed in the summer of 1991.

Pennock Building, 1972 image from the SEHS collections.
Do not reproduce, copy, or disseminate this
image without SEHS consent. 
...Next store to the Smith Organ factory [to the right of the Smith Organ building, if you look at it from Tremont Street], in 1877, was erected the Moody and Sankey Tabernacle. This building was considered 'temporary,' and stood only for about a year, but it was built of brick and iron and designed to seat 6,000 people. Dwight L. Moody, the renowned preacher, conducted revival meetings here twice a day for four months in the spring of 1877. Boston newspapers...printed his sermons as front page news. Ira Sankey was the featured vocal soloist. The revivals created such a sensation that special trains were run into the city to accommodate the crowds. Since horsecars were running regularly down Tremont Street by this time, it was easy to get here from one of the numerous Boston railroad stations.

On the same site, in 1884, rose the Gettysburg Cyclorama building. The great round structure, which originally had two towers flanking its Tremont Street entrance, was designed by Cummings and Sears...Its sole purpose was to display a great painting of the Battle of Gettysburg, 400 feet long and 50 feet high, by the French panorama painter Paul Philippoteaux. This painting was the twin of a Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg already done by Philippoteaux for Willoughby and associates in Chicago. The Boston painting, somewhat cut down, is now displayed by the National Park Service in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania...Two later versions [were] done by Philippoteaux for Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

One entered the Cyclorama building from Tremont Street and then climbed a circular staircase to the viewing platform, there to be completely surrounded by the painting, which was hung from a track...along the wall of the circular building. Between the painting and the viewer...[were] mounds of actual dirt, trees, cannons, fences, pieces of uniforms, wagon wheels, stacked rifles, and remnants of campfires. The effect was to make it difficult to tell where real objects ended and the painting began. A canvas sky concealed the windows that lighted the painting from above. You were made to feel that you were actually standing on Cemetery Ridge, looking forty miles in every direction, and watching Pickett's Confederate troops make their futile charge--all for only $0.50 admission.

Cyclorama in the 1890s when it served as the home to Waverley Bicycles, image from SEHS collections.
Do not reproduce, copy, or disseminate this image without SEHS consent. 
...Proprietors of the Gettysburg Cyclorama building...took down its original painting and exhibited other cycloramas depicting such diverse subjects as Custer's Last Fight, Jerusalem, the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea..., and something advertised as Napoleon in Hell. After use for roller skating, rough riding displays, and a Spanish American War fair, the building was turned into a garage...For this Tremont Garage the two towers were removed and the squared-off extension constructed along Tremont Street. In 1906 French bicycle racer Albert Champion rented space here, where he developed the A.C. Spark Plug. He moved in 1908 to a larger factory in Roxbury and eventually merged with General Motors.

In 1922 the building was sold to the Boston Flower Exchange, Inc., which made it the center for the wholesale florist business of the region for nearly a half century. In 1970, [after]... a new flower exchange was built on Albany Street, the newly formed Boston Center for the Arts...was designated as the developer of this old building and several adjacent ones.
Cyclorama in 1972 (note the top of the original Cyclorama dome peeking out above the main facade).
Image from SEHS collections.
Do not reproduce, copy, or disseminate this image without SEHS consent. 

National Theater in 1972. Image from SEHS collections.
Do not reproduce, copy, or disseminate this image without SEHS consent. 
...To the right of the Cyclorama building [was]...the National Theater, designed by Clarence Blackall and built in 1911. At that time it was supposedly the largest vaudeville house in the world. Its 3,500 seats allowed the prices to be kept very low...On the night of the theater opening, September 18, 1911, the overflow crowd quite literally broke the doors in. Bostonians listened to Irving Berlin's very first hit song, 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' and made the orchestra play it over and over...

Gradually vaudeville declined and the theater came to be devoted exclusively to motion pictures. Then, in the era of television, the movies themselves began to decline. E.M. Loew continued to run the National as a movie house until the night before the Boston Center for the Arts took it over in 1973. For a time after that it was used by the BCA...but it [was torn down in 1996. Today the Calderwood Pavilion stands in the National's former location].

To the right of the [National Theater]...stood the Hotel Clarendon, an establishment managed for a long time by boxing legend John L. Sullivan. This hotel was destroyed by fire in 1969. The Odd Fellows Hall, an ornate Gothic white granite building built in 1871-1872, formerly occupied the entire corner space beyond that, but it too was destroyed by a...fire early in 1932." [Atelier 505 occupies the site today].
Odd Fellows Hall, Berkeley Street facade. This image belongs to the Boston Public Library and may not be reproduced without their consent. 
The Berkeley Street side of Odd Fellows Hall. 1932 fire. This image belongs to the Boston
Public Library and may not be reproduced without their consent. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fox Brothers, South End Grocers

About six months ago, a SEHS member donated a billhead from Fox Brothers, Grocers that dates to June 7, 1895. It indicates that Mr. L. E. Spaulding sold 294 dozen eggs to Fox Brothers between May 7th and June 4th, 1895. At $0.17 cents per dozen, Fox Brothers owed Mr. Spaulding $49.48.

Why did Fox Brothers need 294 dozen eggs in one month? They sold them at the grocery that they operated at 685 and 687 Tremont Street, on the corner of Tremont and West Newton Streets.

In 1888, the publication Leading Business men of Back Bay, South End, Boston Highlands, Jamaica Plain and Dorchester described the store:
“Fox Brothers, Grocers…one of the very best examples of what a Metropolitan Grocery Store should be, with which we are familiar, is that afforded by the establishment of Messrs. Fox Brothers… we believe that it would be difficult for the most critical to suggest a needed improvement in the fitting up and management of the store under existing conditions. Neither pains nor expense is spared to make this establishment thoroughly attractive and ‘wholesome‘ looking, both within and without, and the result is seen in one of the neatest and handsomest Grocery Stores in the city. Fox Brothers…having had very nearly a quarter of a century's experience… it is only natural that they should be perfectly conversant with their business in every detail. The [store] comprise[s] one floor and a basement, their dimensions being 40 x 70 feet, and employment is afforded thirteen efficient assistants, who may be depended on to strive their utmost to show customers prompt and civil attention. The stock on hand is so large and varied that it would be idle to even attempt a full description of it, but it may be said to include all kinds of Groceries, both Staple and Fancy, and to be as remarkable for uniform merit as it is for variety. The very finest flavored Teas, Coffees and Spices are handled by this house, and those who are able to appreciate a good article in this line will find that their tastes may be fully suited here, as all grades, from the mildest to the strongest, are supplied at the lowest attainable rates. Canned Goods are also given particular attention, and some delicious relishes and condiments are also on hand.”
Now this site is home to the eastern portion of the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library but the Fox Brothers occupied this location from at least 1870 to at least 1915. They may have been there longer—these are just the earliest and latest dates that I found evidence for. The excerpt above indicates that, in 1888, Fox Brothers had “very nearly a quarter of a century's experience,” indicating that they had been in business since sometime in the 1860s.

The 1870 directory tells us that Charles E. Fox and Co. operated a grocery here and lived at 114 West Newton Street. By 1885 however, brothers John and Frank are listed as owning the grocery store and one or both may have lived at 114 West Newton Street. 114 West Newton Street was the same building as 685 Tremont Street, but the upstairs living quarters at 114 would have been accessed from a door on the West Newton Street side and the store accessed from the Tremont Street side. In 1905, John Fox was living at 126 Berkeley Street.

If you lived in the South End around the turn of the last century and wanted to contact them, all you had to do was call them on the telephone. The number? Trem. 230. Or you  might hop on the Tremont Street streetcar.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spotlight on Collections: What can we learn from “Lynn’s Most Perfect Baby”?

Recently, a pair of newspaper articles from 1912-1913 have been making the rounds of pop culture blogging websites , , and .  In December of 1912 published that Elsie Scheel, a 24 year-old co-ed at Cornell University’s College of Horticulture, was “The Perfect Girl.”  Two months later, in February of 1913, a similar article was published about Elsie in , explaining that Elsie’s perfection was rooted in her uncanny resemblance to the Venus de Milo, brought on by “sane living."  It’s easy to see why Elsie’s story is so compelling to today's blogs.  It’s fun and quirky and all three sites highlight the articles’ more humorous aspects, including Elsie’s love of beefsteak (evidenced by the byline “Beefsteak her Mainstay”) and her claim that she “doesn’t know what fear is.”  Elsie's story also puts the ideals of the early twentieth century in stark contrast with our own modern ones, specifically regarding women’s bodies. 

While these are legitimately interesting aspects of Elsie’s story, what I found to be most striking about the articles was that we had something just like them in the collections at the South End Historical Society (SEHS).  We have an article, published in 1916 by an unknown paper in Lynn, MA, which declares that Edith M. O’Shea is “Lynn’s most perfect baby physically.”  This article came to us as a part of the Aertsen-Blair collection, a box of old photographs (and this newspaper article) found in the rowhouse at 175 West Brookline Street and donated to the SEHS by the current residents.  Through some research, we determined that these photos belonged to a former resident of the house, Beatrice Gallivan (the SEHS held a program about the house, the collection, and our journey researching it about ).  Edith O’Shea, Lynn’s most perfect baby, was Beatrice Gallivan’s niece.  Nineteen month-old Edith was determined to be 99% physically perfect for a girl of her age (she missed that last 1% because “her tongue was coated at the time of the examination and she suffered from discoloration”), and was declared the most physically perfect of all 500 babies entered in what was then called a “Baby Show.”

Now, of course, Edith’s story taken alone seems like just another quirky and compelling artifact of times past, but that would be missing the bigger picture. What’s really interesting is that when taken in conjunction with the articles about Elsie Scheel, it becomes clear that studies of physical perfection were a trend in the early twentieth century, and that such studies were important enough to the popular culture of the time to make the newspapers.  In fact, a search of Pro-Quest Historical Newspapers for an article between 1900 and 1920 with the word “perfect” in their titles yields a multitude of such articles: “How Vivian Vaugh Became ‘The Perfect Woman’” (The Chicago Daily Tribune, 1905), “Perfect Baby is Challenged: Denver’s Champion Infant Throws Down Gauntlet” (Los Angeles Times, 1913), “The Perfect Man: Ralph Rose Compared with the Apollo Belvedere” (The Atlanta Constitution, 1905).  The similarities between the Edith and Elsie stories are obviously more than just a coincidence, so what is this article about Edith really telling us about American culture in the early twentieth century?

The first thing we can learn from Edith’s story is that attitudes towards women’s and girls’ health were changing drastically in the early 1900s.  Edith’s mother claimed that “lots of sleep and fresh air have made Edith the prize morsel of humanity she is,” and the article insists that all of the prize-winners in the Lynn contest were “fresh air babies, accorded the best of food and care” and that none “look[ed] petted or coddled.”  This is evidence of the new understanding that moderation, fresh air, and especially athleticism were important for the well-being of women and girls.  This is reflected in another article from The Chicago Tribune published in 1907 titled “Chicago Producing MOST PERFECT RACE OF WOMEN in the World.”  The article is about the city’s new athletic facilities for women, which were “giving to Chicago a new generation, a generation of perfect women, free from ills, strong, self-reliant, and beautiful.”  The city of Chicago likewise declared that as a result of their increased numbers of playgrounds and gymnasiums for girls, “the rising generation of Chicago girls will be more beautiful, healthful, and normal than the one preceding it.”  At the time this was written, it had not been long since the ideal woman would have never had the strength to take up physical tasks for their own health, let alone play basketball, as the young girls of Chicago were encouraged to do.  Still, as the twentieth century got underway and the movement for women’s suffrage (which, incidentally, was a favorite cause of Elsie Scheel’s) gained traction, women were increasingly seen as strong, independent, and athletic individuals.  This is seen in the two articles about Elsie, both of which emphasize her athleticism and discuss her propensity for physical labor and her “tramps” through the wilderness.  Edith and Elsie are both proof that in the early twentieth Century, frail women were out and strong women were in.

The cultural obsession with physical perfection that we see in our article about little Edith is also linked to another, darker aspect of United States history at the turn of the century.  Lynn’s “Baby Show,” as well as Cornell’s study of co-eds, were undertaken at the height of the American Eugenics Movement.  Although most people associate it with the policies of Nazi Germany, Eugenics was very popular in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.  The Eugenics Movement encouraged American racism and xenophobia while influencing state health policies, which led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of American citizens because of race, class, or mental disability.  One key aspect of the American Eugenics Movement was the process of selective breeding, which involved identifying genetically perfect specimens to breed with each other.  Although there is no mention of “breeding” the babies, Lynn’s contest to find the most physically perfect children is undoubtedly connected to the goal of identifying the “fittest” specimens in the city. This connection becomes all the more clear when taken in conjunction with yet another article about “perfect” babies, “Perfect Babies to Mate for the Good of the Race: Remarkable Pact Between the Mothers of Hundred-Point Infants” (Los Angeles Times, 1915).  This article, which includes the byline “Parents Plan Future Union in Eugenics’ Name,” tells the story of two children whose mothers arranged their marriage soon after they both scored 100% in a “Baby Show” almost identical to the one held in Lynn.  Both children were the winners of multiple “Eugenic trophies” at the time of the betrothal.

Whether Edith’s parents were consciously thinking about selective breeding when entering their children into the Lynn contest is impossible to say but probably unlikely.  Likewise, based on the articles about Elsie Scheel, it’s doubtful that she was a fervent Eugenicist looking for her “perfect” mate.  Still it’s important to remember that historical artifacts like these ones don’t stand alone. When one makes it onto our modern pop-culture radar, it shouldn’t just be something we giggle at and move on. Yes, the byline “Beefsteak Her Mainstay” seems funny to us now -- and there’s nothing wrong with having a laugh at history -- but we should also feel encouraged to think about the things we read historically.  Edith and Elsie were the results of a complex culture that has since disappeared, and it’s that complexity that really makes them so compelling.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Everett Letters: October 14, 1851

What have the Everetts been up to?
Business at Rowes Wharf, the famous singer Jenny Lind, and some discussion about Irish domestic servants.
See their letters from August 19, 1851 and September 23, 1851 for their earlier correspondence and some notes about the history behind the letters and the neighborhood.

Image courtesy of the
My dear Son, [Otis Everett Sr. writing to Otis Jr.]

Our last letter to you was under date of 24 September, forwarded by overland mail to Calcutta, which I hope will come duly to hand.  I suppose that you are now on your passage from Bombay to Calcutta, where this will meet you.  Thomas & Percy left here on Saturday morning 27 Sept., stopping at Brandon till Monday morn’g, from thence thro’ Lake Champlain to Montreal & Quebec & Niagara, stopping at Victory near Saratoga to see Geo. White, and home by way of Albany & Springfield, being absent 2 weeks.  They had a capital time.  Percy as usual is quite busy.  He has been at Charlestown several days from early in the morning to late in the afternoon attending to shipping of ice by the ship Townsend for Calcutta.  I saw Mr. Sharp & few days since he has opened an office as Notary Public nearly opposite the N.E. Bank [67 State Street] .  I learn that their accounts were in a bad state but do not know what they will be short [if] Mr. Bradlee & Mr. Hall pay their debts.  So that is not a failure but very near akin to one.

As I went down to Commercial Wharf to get my Rowes Wharf dividend, I could hardly help looking up to the old store, but did not see you or “Sam.”  The store appeared to be closed.  Business has been rather dull & money most terrible scarce.  The Banks did nothing & the best paper was sold at from 1 to 2 percentage points a month discount.  There have been some failures, amongst others David Pingree of Salem has been compelled to stop, tho’ it is said he will have something left after paying his debts.  The Thompsonville & Tanffville[?] Mfg. Co. have also failed.  Sharp & Co. did not have any of their paper.  Iasigi & Goddard [merchants at 36 Central Wharf] had some 20 to 30,000 & W. R. Kendall also a large amount.

Clipper ships are yet quite in fashion.  The Flying Cloud made a splendid passage, 89 days to San Francisco.  The Flying Fish in the same model is now loading; Capt. Nickels, late of the J. Q. Adams is to command her.  As usual I receive a letter from Canton by every mail and shall expect your Uncle John home during the next year.  Capt. Faucon is still here and has taken up his abode with Mrs. Greene in Dover St.   [Benjamin H. Greene was at 77 Dover Street.]  He usually takes tea with us on Sundays.

17th.  Your very welcome letter dated Bombay 31st Aug. was just this moment handed me by Percy.  It came in the English steamer this morning.  We heard by telegraph yesterday from Halifax of your arrival out and of course were expecting letters today.  I am glad to hear that you had so pleasant a voyage out.  I hope you will write us again from Bombay as often as you have an opportunity.  Do not let a mail leave without writing.  This will be the last letter from home, unless you remain at Calcutta, which you will receive …  If you come home in the vessel let me advise you to keep the right side of Capt. Ewer.  If he is not so agreeable as you could wish, don’t mind it, make the best of it, do what you can to make all go smoothly and pleasantly.
                                                                                    Your aff. father,
                                                                                                Otis Everett

Dear Otis,
You surely are the very best of all good boys to write such a nice, full, long letter.  We had the Telegraphic news from Halifax of the arrival of the Equator, but had to wait twenty-four hours for your letter.  Father and I were both waked about midnight by the gun announcing the steamer in the harbour, and our first waking thought was, “There comes Otis’s letter.”  Uncles, aunts, and cousins came to the house to ask “What news from Otis,” and we received many congratulations upon the receipt of the much wished-for letter.  Your voyage was shorter than we thought it would be and your resistance to sea-sickness far exceeded our expectations.  I can hardly believe that you are the same boy that turned sick at swinging and grew pale on the back seat of a carriage, but if your other manly traits have developed in the same proportion, I am well content.
Picture of one of the Elephanta Caves, Island of
Elephanta, from
Capt. Faucon says your description of Bombay is very correct and that the Island of Elephanta is well worth seeing.  He has promised to lend me the pamphlet of the tour that you spoke of, and he knows all about everybody and everything that you mention.  He is perfectly delighted with his new boarding place and says he has never felt so much at home for years.  He is quite a constant visitor at our home and always a welcome one.  Snap and Nelly are well and feel quite proud of Gip’s popularity.  Ann has gone to live with Mrs. David Weld, and a young sister of Esther’s, just arrived, takes her place at our house.  [Ann and Esther were presumably Irish immigrant girls working as servants in the Everett household.]

Church of the Savior, Bedford St., Boston. Courtesy of
the from their
Anna Adams died a week since of quick consumption.  She is a great loss, and her death is much felt by all her acquaintance.  I have just received a wedding card from James Clapp, who has taken up his abode in Roxbury.  Anna Smith is to be married next Thursday, and has a large levee at Mr. Huskins brother’s, where they are to board.  Carry Curtis is to be married in three weeks.  She will be married about 11 o’clock in Mr. Waterston’s church, after which she receives morning calls at home.  [Rev. Robert C. Waterston was minister of Church of the Savior, a Unitarian church on Bedford Street.]  In the evening Aunt Curtis has a family party, like our Thanksgiving gatherings, and the next morning they start for the West to be gone all winter.  They intend to visit Niagara and the Mammoth Cave on their way and be back about April.

Thomas and Percy stayed whilst at Niagara at the same house with Jenny Lind.  [Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale, the most famous diva of the 19th century, was then on tour in the United States.  P.T. Barnum managed her tour and created a craze for all things Jenny Lind.]  They had the room directly opposite hers and heard her sing for two hours.  They went under the sheet at Niagara, walked over the suspension bridge, crossed the river close to the falls in a skiff, and saw all other wonders.

We all had a sad start the other day by hearing that Aunt Williams had had a fall and broken her ankle bone.  I went immediately out, and felt quite relieved when I saw how cheerful and comfortable she was.  She had just returned from riding, and their man (who always lifts her) had taken her safely from the carriage and set her in a chair on the steps, when William [William Williams, her son], thinking her too near the edge, moved the chair a very little, when she fell forwards down the whole flight.  She immediately fainted and remained insensible until some time after she was placed upon the bed.  The Doctor was procured as soon as possible who set the bone, and now it is quite healed.  She thought a great deal more about William than about herself, as he feels so badly about it that we thought he never would get over it.  He has always been so careful of his mother that he could not bear to have her have the least jar, and to think that he should let her fall was altogether too much for his fortitude, but with her usual fortitude she made as light of it as possible, and the next day but one was carried out as usual to breakfast, and since then has taken her accustomed place in the family, to the great relief of us all. 

All the other members of the family are jogging on the same as usual.  Pray do not lose a word of your journal, but write it out as full as you can.  I think you must have looked exceedingly graceful getting into the Palanquin [an enclosed litter carried on bearers’ shoulders with poles] for the first time.  I do not believe I should have known you to have met you in one.  I suppose I must leave a little bit of blank paper for father, and so, with ever so much love, I remain your affectionate

Monday 20th
I must put this into the Post Office today to go by the steamer from New York on Wednesday, tho’ if you have a quick passage round from Bombay to Calcutta & do not meet with much detention there this letter will hardly reach you .  Just before I left home this morning Mr. James Edward Blake from Warwick called at the house.  He is here on a visit.  I went with him to Whittemores the Rifle Makers & to Uncle Williams’ store.  I hope that whilst he is here we may have an opportunity to try some shooting.  He says the dog you gave him is getting to be very good at hunting.  Not long since he started a rabbit in the road.  They had quite a long run but he caught him & brot him in.  He & the cat eat together out of the same dish, so he does not inherit his father’s antipathy to cats.  It is now getting to be cold, so that we have to take Nelly into the house.  Snap does not much like being alone but we let him in occasionally.  I told him about your letter.  He looked up in my face with his usual knowing look as much as to say I understand it.  I told him I was writing you & asked him if he had anything to say.  He said, “Sigh, sigh,” which I suppose means, tell  … [The last sheet of Otis Everett’s letter to his son is missing]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Everett Letters: September 23, 1851

Last week I posted the first in a long series of letters written by members of the Everett family.  See the first letter, written on August 19, 1851.

These letters were written between 1851 and 1859 and contain the correspondence between Otis and Elizabeth Blake Everett in Boston and their son Otis Blake Everett who was working in India.  Other family members also write occasionally.  In the 1850s Otis and Elizabeth Everett lived in a house in the South End near where the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Cathedral High School stand today.
A snapshot of a part of "Map of the City of Boston and immediate neighborhood," by Henry McIntyre, 1852.  From the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library:.  The image at left shows the area around Washington Street, Malden Street, and Waltham Street.  The image at right is a close up of the same map that shows Blake's Court off of Washington Street.  The Everetts lived in the house on the corner of Washington St. and Blake's Court.  If you look closely, you can see the house labeled as "O.H. Everett."  Other families who appear in later letters are also represented on this map, like the Weld family, whose house was located just to the west of Blake's Court.
This series of letters offers a rare glimpse in to the private life of a mid-nineteenth century South End family.  The founding Historical Society president, Richard Card, transcribed the letters and researched the Everett family.  He found the following:

"Otis Everett (father), born in 1803, was bookkeeper to William Amory at 65 State Street.  He was married to Elizabeth Lowell Blake (mother) and at this time [the time the letters were written] they were still living in what had been her father’s house, on the corner of Blake Court [about where Union Park Street and Washington Street. intersect, on the Cathedral side of the street], then numbered as 928 Washington Street.  They had three sons, of whom the eldest was Otis Blake Everett, born in 1829, who was employed by the merchant firm of Tuckerman & Co., in Calcutta.  The middle son was Thomas B. Everett, a clerk on India Wharf and later a partner with Frank Hodgkinson in a merchant firm.  In 1854 he married Sarah E. Greene (whose family lived at 77 Dover Street and whose brother George was in Calcutta) and they took a house in Roxbury.  The youngest son (born in 1833) was Percival L. Everett, who was employed at this time by Augustine Heard & Co, in Canton, China.  In later years he was president of the Third National Bank.

A wide array of uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, and dogs are mentioned in the letters, often by initials or nicknames.  Probably the various Darracott, Williams, and Curtis relatives spring from married sisters of one of the Everetts or Blakes.  JHE is Mr. Everett’s brother John H. Everett, while JHB is Mrs. Everett’s brother John H. Blake.  The Everett’s cook is Esther, with Catherine probably serving as maid.  And in India, Otis B. Everett is sharing a house with Goodwin Whitney and later also with his brother George Whitney..

One should keep in mind that mail steamers normally left only twice a month, and that Calcutta-Boston mail generally took close to two months in each direction.  In other words, it would take some four months to receive an answer to a question asked in any letter.  And England and France were at war with Russia in the Crimea, causing further disruptions."

With that, here is the second letter, dated September 23, 1851.  Bracketed sentences are comments of Richard Card's that he added during the transcription.

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: September 23, 1851
[From Otis' brother Thomas Everett.  The beginning of this letter from Thomas to Otis has been lost.]
 … Father and mother spent a fortnight at Manataug this summer, which they enjoyed extremely.  The company consisted of old Mr. Weld & Martha, Uncle John W’s family, Mrs. Green & Mary Darracott, Capt’n Faucon, Mary Blake & Charlie Parker.  During their absence Puss [brother Percy] & I kept old bachelors’ hall at home, except the Sundays they were there, which we passed with them.  They return’d looking brown as berries and perfectly delighted with their visit.  The ladies played all manner of jokes upon Capt’n F., and he in return did the same to them.  Mary Blake seemed to be almost crazy with delight.  She could hardly sleep at night, so much did she admire to look at the water, and be out breathing the invigorating atmosphere of that place.  Father was very lucky at fishing, and caught several very large tautog. … Altho’ I have many more things to say, want of time to relate them compels me to bring this to a close, and I therefore transfer the remainder of news to mother’s much more agreeable and ready pen to relate.
                                                            Remaining your affectionate brother,
                                                                                                Thomas B. Everett
September 23, 1851
Dear Otis,
I most gladly take up the pen where Thomas laid it down, for as I cannot talk to you, writing is next best.  We have not got accustomed to your absence yet, and after almost every interval of silence when we are all together comes the exclamation, “If only we could get a letter from Otis.”  But I hope we shall not have to wait much longer before we hear of your good health, safe arrival, and promising business prospects.  Thomas and Percy started yesterday for Brandon, and father and I are so lonely that we want you more than ever.

Aunt Catherine spent the Jubilee week with us and we had a grand time going about together.  [A railroad jubilee celebrating the linking of Boston railroad lines with Montreal culminated in a grand parade on Sept. 19, 1851, with a formal dinner on Boston Common attended by U.S. President Millard Fillmore.] We went to Mrs. Greene’s to see the great procession and Dover Street far outshone all other streets in its adornments, for no expense was spared, and the cheers of the passers-by were one continual “Hurra.”  In the evening we had Cheney’s open barouche and rode all over the city to see the illuminations and fireworks.  [John E. Cheney’s livery stable was on the corner of Washington and Dover Streets.  A barouche is a carriage with a driver’s seat in front, two double seats inside facing each other, and a folding top.]  We had some splendid ones on Blackstone Square, and altogether the week went off grandly to everyone’s satisfaction without accident or disgrace from any one.
Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: September 23, 1851
Thomas has told you about our Marblehead excursion.  We enjoyed every moment of it and I never laughed so much in my life before, all put together.  And now let me think if Thomas has forgotten any thing in the news way that has lately happened.  O yes!  Flagg has sold out his store and bought out King’s line of omnibusses and moved to Roxbury.  Johnson, who kept near Northampton St. has taken Flagg’s house and store [across Washington Street from the Everett house], and it goes on the same as usual.  The Pierponts [William A. Pierpont & Co., brass founders at 407 Harrison Avenue, corner of Blake’s Court.] have failed but hope to be able to make arrangements to keep on their business.  Mr. Babbitt has bought a house in Roxbury and moved out there, and offers his old one for sale at 16 thousand dollars. …

We have had a terrible tornado in this vicinity, being most destructive in West Cambridge and Medford.  Many houses were entirely leveled and the largest trees twisted entirely up by the roots.  A heavily loaded baggage wagon was carried several feet.  Mr. Pierpont’s house [in Roxbury] was unroofed and the roof carried a great distance, and several persons were killed.  All around the outskirts of the tornado it was perfectly still.

Now for family folks!  All the wanderers have returned to their homes since cool weather commenced.  William Williams arrived a fortnight since in good health, notwithstanding his severe exposures.  He seems to have enjoyed his excursion and has gained a great deal of knowledge and experience.  He says he has frequently slept in the open air with no protection but a single blanket in the severest tropical rains, and in one place was so short of food that they cooked the monkeys, and that although they had an excellent cook yet it passed his skill to make them palatable, excepting in the form of soup, for either roasted or fried they were tougher than tough.

Carry Curtis is preparing for her wedding, which takes place the last of October.  She goes West with George to pass the winter.  I believe we wrote you that George purchased Fanny [a dog] to carry out West.  She arrived there safe and all were delighted with her, but to their great regret she has since been stolen.  Aunt Mary Curtis has been very sick , bleeding at the lungs, and we are still anxious for her lest she should have a return of the complaint, but she is now out of immediate danger and we hope will entirely recover.  Anna Adams has had a similar attack and for many days was given over by the physicians, but they now feel encouraged again, and if she does not go into a rapid consumption [an old name for tuberculosis] they think she may get well. … Snap and Nelly send their love to Gip [also a dog] and wish to know how he likes a sailor’s life.  They both enjoy good health and have lost none of the music of their voices when the boys go down the lane.

The South End Market progresses rapidly [The Williams Market, then being built on the corner of Washington and Dover Streets, had market stalls below and a meeting hall upstairs.  It was later the New Grand Theatre.]  The street has been paved from Dover to Brookline Streets, and Union Park (back of Mr. Clapp’s store) [Clapp’s was later Flagg’s] is having an iron fence erected round it, and preparations for a fountain, so we shall look in nice order when you return.  We have heard twice of the Equator’s being spoken, but got no letters, and we feared from your location at the time that you would make a long passage.  But, however, we hope to hear from you in the month of November, and I try to be as patient as possible.  Do write every opportunity, and write every little thing, if it be ever so trifling, that we should like to hear, for you were always the best news gatherer in the family, and pray keep up the accomplishment on paper.
                                                            With ever so much love from father and me,
                                                                                    Your affectionate Mother,

Dear Otis,
Your mother and Thomas having written you all the news. it only remains for me to say that I miss you very much and just now we are all alone, Thomas & Percy being on a journey.  Your mother goes to Dorchester this PM, so I shall dine all alone.  Do be particular & write us by every opportunity.  I have written you once to Bombay & once to Calcutta, which I hope you have rec’d.  Some of us may perhaps write again next month, which will be our last letter as after that a letter would not probably reach you.  I have not seen either Mr. Sharp or Bradlee since they stopped payment [in other words, their business failed]  I learn that Mr. Bradlee & Mr. Hale pay all their debts.  You know that I have always said that young people living so fast would sooner or later come to the end of their purse.  Mr. Jonah B. felt rather cross about it.  I have no more news & so can only wish you a pleasant voyage home.
                                                                                    Your aff. father,
                                                                                                Otis Everett

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Everett Letters: August 19, 1851

Years ago, Richard Card, the founding SEHS president, was told of the existence of a bunch of old letters stored in a shoebox in an attic of a South End house that was being renovated.  He purchased the letters, which he transcribed.  Richard found that the letters were written between 1851 and 1859 and contain the correspondence between Otis and Elizabeth Blake Everett in Boston and their son Otis Blake Everett who was working in India.  Otis and Elizabeth Everett lived in a house near where the Cathedral of the Holy Cross stands today.   

Last week, Richard released the letters from his private collection and officially donated them to the Historical Society. After one hundred and fifty plus years they are in remarkably good condition. They contain an immense amount of detail about family connections, weather events, weddings, births, deaths, recreational activities, business concerns, trade items, and so much more.

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting images of the letters and the accompanying transcriptions.  Bracketed items are Richard's notes where he felt additional information might be helpful.  I hope you enjoy the story of the Everetts and this rare glimpse into the personal lives of a nineteenth century family. 

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: August 19, 1851.
Boston, Aug.19, 1851

My dear Son,
I wrote you in June last, calculating for the overland mail from London on 6th July so as to meet you on arrival at Bombay with letters.  Thomas & Percy [Otis’s two younger brothers] wrote afterwards.  On the 19 July [the] Brig Ohio arrived at Salem & reported having spoken the Equator [the ship on which Otis had sailed] on 18 June Lat. 2 N., so you had made rather a long passage thus far.  We were somewhat disappointed at not having a letter, but presume you did not board the Ohio.  This letter I intend to send to meet the English mail of 6th September.  I hope it will meet you immediately on your arrival at Calcutta.  Something over 100 days have passed away since you sailed.  We feel quite impatient to hear from you, but suppose [we] must wait patiently some sixty days or more. 

The summer is now nearly ended, but has been quite a pleasant one, tho’ not much warm weather.  For the last three weeks it has been very dry & dusty.  The street in front of our house [Washington Street] has been obstructed nearly three months.  They have just finished laying a large drain thro’ the street & most of the owners of estates have been cutting into it.  Have now a capital drain to the cellar, so that if we have another high tide it may run off sooner than before (the water I mean).  They have now commenced paving commencing at Dover [now East Berkeley] St. & going to Malden St., and we have had dust enough.  Ramsey, the successor to John Rider comes every morning to water the street. [Water wagons then were used to wet down gravel streets to alleviate dust].

Your mother & myself propose going to Manataug [a summer resort] on Thursday to pass some 10 days or so.  The Smiths have come up & we are to have their rooms.  Your uncle JDW & his family, OCE & his, Mr. Weld [Daniel Weld, a wealthy elderly merchant, who lived with his daughter next door to the Everetts] & Martha are now there.  They have passed the summer there & had some splendid fishing.  Tautog [an edible fish, also called blackfish] have been quite plenty.  This afternoon we are going to Newton to ask Mary Clapp to go with us.  She has never been at the sea coast.

The dogs are quite lively (Snap & Nelly).  I sold Fanny to Geo. Fisher to take to the West for $15.  Nelly has grown quite handsome & is a little beauty.  Snap is as wide awake as ever, tho’ for several days after you went away he was quite dull.  He seems to like to have me talk to him about you and it really seems as if he understood what I say.

Business is dull.  The factories are making up with heavy losses.  Money is tremendous tight.  Calcutta goods have advanced in price.  I hope that you will make a good voyage.  I intend to send this by Europe on Wednesday 20 inst. so as to be in season.  Tho’ if you have a long passage round from Bombay it will be rather old news, but the boys will write later.  I must leave room for your mother.
                                                                                    Your aff. father,
                                                                                                Otis Everett

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Exterior of letter: August 19, 1851.
Dear Otis,
It seems so pleasant to be once more addressing you; I only wish I could do it by voice.  We have not yet become accustomed to your absence and something occurs every hour to recall you to memory, but we have not wanted for visitors this summer, although all the relatives and relations are out of town.  There have been two deaths in Mr. Brigham’s house since his family went to Grafton. [William Brigham was the Everetts’ next door neighbor on the north side.]  They were a man and his child belonging to the family Mr. B. took there to look after the house in their absence; probably they have lived upon the green fruit in the yard.  Flagg [Jacob B. Flagg was a grocer who lived and worked directly across Washington Street from the Everetts] has moved to Roxbury and sold out his stock in the store to Mr. Johnson, who formerly kept with Mr. Clapp.  Mr. Savage’s family have moved to Jamaica Plain.  Father and I called to see them a few days since.  They seem quite contented with their country home.  Not many other changes have occurred in the neighborhood … All Aunt Rebecca’s family are in the country now excepting Uncle Henry.  He was robbed a few nights ago by some one who entered the house whilst he was asleep and took his watch from over his bed and his wallet from his pants, which laid in a chair close by.  He has not yet heard anything from them, and probably never will.  The wallet contained 80 dollars.  They entered by removing a square of glass in the kitchen.

 … Frank Darracott has bought a house in Ashburton Place, for which he gave 22,000 dollars, and James D. has gone into partnership with his father and moved to Woburn.  The Fenno’s have all had the varioloid [a mild form of smallpox], but I must stop, for I keep thinking of so many things to write that such a medley will I fear confuse you, and not aid you at all in getting your thoughts into proper trim for business. … I am counting the days and hours for a letter from you, and be sure you write minutely and by every opportunity, then you shall have the like done for you when your oldest son goes away from you.
                                                                        Your ever affectionate mother,