Category Archives: living memory

The Daniel Gage Ice Company of Lowell, Massachusetts

In the Lowell of our parents and grandparents, a yellow horse-drawn wagon coming down a city street in high summer meant an approaching escape from the summer heat.  City children knew each ice man driving the yellow wagons, and often relished jumping aboard for a piece of ice and a ride down the road, or across the city.  The yellow wagons belonged to the Daniel Gage Ice Company, and many kids knew the routes better than the ice men themselves.  Even today, they still hold a special place in the hearts of those who remember them.

An advertisement for Daniel Gage Ice, as it appeared in Lowell, A City of Spindles, 1900, by Lowell Trades and Labor Council

One of the best things about writing Forgotten New England is hearing from readers.  I recently posted an entry about the lost profession of ice harvesting and the ice cutters and icemen who helped gather and deliver ice to a world that did not yet know refrigeration.  Through a fellow board member of the Lowell Historical Society (who writes the Lowell Doughboys and More blog), I met Gavin Lambert, who shared the photograph below, as well as his mother’s memories of the ice men she remembered from growing up in Lowell in the 1940s.  She recalled Shorty, her family’s ice man, who arrived in his horse-drawn wagon with his leather shoulder shroud and ice tongs.  Shorty, as she remembered, was a friendly guy, who readily chiseled off ice splinters to give to the neighborhood kids each summer.  She remembered the wooden floor of Shorty’s ice wagon.  Although she never knew his full name or nationality, she still remembers her family’s ice man from Gage’s Ice Company to this day, almost 70 years later.

Photo Courtesy of Gavin Lambert

Photo Courtesy of Gavin Lambert

Gage’s Ice of Lowell was, at one time, so well-known that the image of its ice blocks floating down the Merrimack River was considered so central to the identity of Lowell that it is memorialized in a stained glass window that sits in St. Brigid’s church in the village of Ballyknock, Ballycastle in County Mayo, Ireland.  Explaining the photograph of the window, posted at right, Gavin Lambert shares that enough people from the Jordan family left that Irish village for Lowell that the stained glass window was placed in their church in their memory.  Representing Lowell is, of course, its mills and smokestacks.  But, closer examination reveals the ice blocks floating down the Merrimack River, ice blocks belonging to Gage’s ice trade.

Another reader, Dave, recalls colder winters in the 40s and 50s, and how the ice would back up each winter along the Merrimack, so much so that one could hear it “cracking all the way to Broadway”.  Dave recalls walking to Gage’s decades ago to buy ice chips.  Some days, he would buy a huge block of ice for a quarter, and watch it descend a long slide, packed in straw.  Like another reader, he also owns a pair of ice tongs from Gage’s.

Daniel Gage, founder of Gage’s Ice was a fixture in Lowell business circles for nearly half a century, and quickly rose to prominence among Lowell’s business community.  He was born in Pelham, New Hampshire, on June 4, 1828, to Nathan and Mehitable Woodbury Gage, and was proud of his deep New England roots extending back to colonial times.  Gage even claimed descent from the band of men who helped William the Conqueror win England from Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Daniel Gage, from History of Lowell and its People, Volume 3. (Frederick William Coburn, 1920)

Gage spent his first twenty-five years in his native Pelham, NH, on his family farm, before coming to Lowell in 1854 and founding a business in the city’s wholesale beef trade.  He did this for 15 years, setting up his home and business near the Hildreth Street area, in what was then still part of the town of Dracut, Massachusetts.  He sold this off in 1869, and moved to corner of Bridge and West Sixth streets in Lowell.  Soon after, he started his ice business, which he would build for the rest of his life.  It became so successful that he eventually earned the title of Lowell’s ice king.

As Lowell’s ice king, Gage also made his mark on the city in other ways.  He served as a long-time director of the Prescott National Bank, and was its president when he died in 1901.  Later in life, he also extended his business into the coal and wood trade.  Gage also donated ice to many of Lowell’s charitable organizations, a practice continued by his business, and other businesses, well after his death.

Gage, with his wife, Abiah Smith Hobbs, had two daughters, one who died at the age of 16, and the other, Martina, who lived into old age, and eventually became owner of her father’s ice business when he died in 1901, after suffering a bout of pneumonia for about one week.

Daniel Gage, from an illustration published after his death in the March 1901 edition of Ice and Refrigeration.

Years after his death, Gage’s daughter, Martina Gage, became a well-known figure in Lowell’s Highlands neighborhood.  There, she was often seen handing out candies from D.L. Page’s candy store to the children of her workers, who lived in company housing there.  Miss Martina Gage retained control and ownership of Gage’s Ice for nearly as long as her father had.  In March 1929, Martina Gage sold control of Daniel Gage Ice Co. to the Lowell-based Kidder Company, and she gave up her role in its active management.  After 28 years leading the company following her father’s death, she passed day-to-day responsibilities to a board of directors, led by F. Arthur Osterman of the Osterman Coal Company of Wamesit.

Gage’s closed decades ago, and the need for ice from the river has long since been replaced with more modern refrigeration technologies.  Even though the ice houses and the companies that built them are now long gone from our city, their memory remains with those who saw them growing up, and remember the very human element of the ice men who were warmly welcomed regulars in the Lowell neighborhoods they loved as children.


Forgotten Genealogy: A Letter Reveals Memories from Two Lifetimes Ago

Family trees, at first blush, aren’t so exciting.

Genealogists spend a lot of time immersed in old records – especially really old ones, from decades and centuries past.  These records yield valuable information in building family trees.  And, as any genealogist will tell you, every tree ends at its treetop, with the names of its brick wall ancestors, those whose parentage is unknown and likely unrecoverable from surviving paper records.  But, even paper records have their limits.  Beyond providing names of relatives, birth-marriage-death dates, and possibly military service details, very little is recorded about the person.

Sure, if I look at the surviving paper records for Martha Jane Harmer, my wife’s second-great-grandmother, I’ll learn that she was born in Bow, a London suburb, in 1858.  Her baptismal records reveal her parents’ names (John and Charlotte) and that she was baptized in the Anglican church.  UK census records show that she lived in the area until the early 1880’s when she married and moved to the United States.

Deciphering the handwriting of 19th-century records is a madness perfected among long-time genealogists. Above, the baptismal record of Martha Jane Harmer reveals that she was baptized on July 18, 1858, in Poplar, Middlesex, England.

But, that’s pretty much where the trail runs cold.  Sure, you can extend the treetops of your family tree by learning the names, locations, and vital dates of Martha’s ancestors, but, in the end, you’ll have a list of names.  These provide some interesting insights into the naming patterns of earlier times and surnames (and their histories) in your family background, but family historians wonder what their ancestors looked like (which physical traits have been passed down the generations), what their ancestors did (which talents come from earlier generations), and how their ancestors behaved and interacted with each other, and the larger world (what maddening vexations have been passed down the generations).

Studying genealogy for years, it’s so tantalizingly irresistible to blast photographs of ancestors with your brick wall questions – ‘where were you born?’  ‘who were your parents?’  ‘what was your mother’s maiden name?’, or ‘what did you see growing up?’  Any of those answers, recorded anywhere, would be invaluable.

A rare find for family historians, a labelled photograph can provide a face to the name in your family tree. On the back of this photograph, taken by a photographer in the London suburb of Poplar, writing identities the subjects as Martha Jane Harmer and her cousin Bob. Her age is given as 14, meaning the photograph dates from 1872.

It’s every family historian’s dream.  You come across an old box of photographs.  Inside, there might be a photograph of an ancestor, maybe even labelled.  My in-laws, descendants of Martha Jane Harmer, had just such a box.  And, with their family being much more cognizant of posterity than mine, someone actually took the time to label the photographs.  This is genealogical gold.

With that, Martha Jane Harmer, a young Martha Jane at that, has a face.  But, there was more.  Deeper in the box, there was a yellowed envelope, its paper made fragile by age.  Inside, there’s ancient paper, folded into thirds, lined, with light, uneven handwriting looped and swirled across its surface.  A careful unfolding reveals that it’s a letter – to the future – telling posterity about Martha Jane’s memories from her childhood in Poplar.  If only all ancestors in my tree were so informative to the future genealogist.

The letter, some five or six pages long, provides a view, deep into the 19th century, of Martha Jane Harmer, her life, and the lives of her family.  As I read through the memories of a woman whose passed away in 1934, I learned about her grandfather, Charles Harmer, who arose every Monday morning, readied his horse, and then drove through the English town of Acton to collect rents from his tenants.  I read about John Harmer, his son and Martha Jane’s father, who collected the money, running from door-to-door as Charles rode the carriage along the road.  I also learned that, one day, young John jumped from the carriage, twisting and breaking his leg on the curb.  So bad was the break, the story went, that even after the doctor set it, the leg healed shorter than the other.  For the rest of his life, John Harmer wore shoes specially made with an elevated sole.

Charles Harmer and his family in the 1841 England Census. John Harmer, who injured his leg around the time of this census, is noted as the 16-year-old male (‘J’) who appears in the third line down in this listing.

The letter next recalls Martha Jane’s maternal grandfather, Joshua Nunn, who saw his Harmer grandchildren often.  It also reveals that Joshua was deaf and dumb from birth.  An old Nunn family story told of how Joshua Nunn’s mother, when she was young, had wished for children who were deaf and dumb.  Family lore had it that she got her wish – twice over, Joshua and his brother could not speak or hear.  As I read through the letter, I thought this was just too fantastical, but the 1861 UK census proved otherwise:

The line labelled No. 135 contains Joshua Nunn’s entry in the 1861 UK census. The right-most column records that he was deaf and dumb from birth, providing supporting evidence to the Joshua Nunn portrayed in his granddaughter’s letter.

Some of the letter’s charms cannot be verified in surviving records.  They go beyond what was recorded, and would have been lost forever if they hadn’t been captured in those handwritten pages so long ago.  One tale records that Martha Jane’s mother, Charlotte, would put two raw eggs in egg cups for Grandpa Nunn each time when he came to visit them.  He would smile, get the eggs and suck them.  Martha Jane’s father, John, could be a prankster and, one day, put up two eggs that had been emptied.  Even though everyone thought it was a good joke, Grandpa Nunn looked so disappointed that Charlotte soon brought in two eggs to take the place of the empty ones.  Martha Jane also recalled how she and her two older sisters, Emma and Betsy, would pass their Grandma Harmer’s home each day on the way to school.  Grandma Harmer would invite them in for sardine sandwiches and make sure they used the outhouse before continuing on for home.

Martha Jane recalled the bad times too.  She remembered how, on Good Friday in 1866, her mother died, one day after setting up sponge for hot cross buns.  She was just 32 years old.  One day earlier, on Holy Thursday, she had the girls bring in the bread board to the bedroom.  She made the buns ready for the oven and then passed away the next day.  In the letter, Martha Jane recalled how, as the end came,  Grandpa Nunn stood looking at his daughter.  He then said the only words that he had ever spoken in his life. “Poor Charlotte.”  He died the following week.

The letter also records other memories from Martha Jane’s childhood.  When she was about three years old, she was playing at a curb by the alley with her sisters.  A man in a horse and wagon came along and the horse stepped on her jaw.  The neighbors thought she was killed and carried her into her mother.  The doctor was called.  In the end, although she recovered, when she would be busy sometimes, you could see that she held her mouth out of line.

After Charlotte’s funeral, John Harmer tried to keep the children and the home together.  Different relatives came to keep house.  Some took the nice sheets, pillowcases, and anything else they wanted.  John had a hard time taking care of their youngest daughter, Louise, who was just two years old.  He also had a hard time taking care of himself.  The letter recalls that he ‘just lost heart’ and died the year following his wife’s death.  When John died, the girls were still  young, between nine and thirteen years old.  Louise was just three, and went to live with relatives.

The letter continues from there, for several more pages, recalling Martha Jane’s years after her parents’ deaths.  She and her older sisters found work in town as servants.  Martha Jane worked in several homes and lived with a series of relatives, some of whom she recalled fondly, some not so much.  For a while, she lived with her cousin Mary Ann’s family.  Mary Ann is remembered as a ‘husky girl’, who would wake Martha Jane up at night to hold the candle while they went downstairs into the room where the family’s milk was cooling in a large stone jar.  Mary Ann would skim a cup of cream off the surface and drink it.  It wasn’t until years later when Mary Ann got married that Martha Jane’s Aunt Mary admitted to her that she knew it was her own daughter stealing the cream, and not Martha Jane.  Aunt Mary is also fondly memorialized as a woman whose temper grew so frightening that one day, she broke a large mixing bowl over Martha Jane’s head, which left Martha Jane in considerable pain for several days.

Martha’s ‘husky’ cousin, Mary Ann Nunn, was a young girl of 9 years old at the time of the 1861 UK Census. Her mother, the feared ‘Aunt Mary’ from the letter appears on the line above.

Martha Jane’s Aunt Mary is a formidable character, but at her house is where she met her future husband, James Williams.  He’s remembered as a young carpenter who boarded at Aunt Mary’s for a few years while he was building homes in London.  One day after completing a lot of the work, James went to the owner to draw some pay – only to learn that his construction partner had already drawn the pay for both of them, and spent it.  James confronted the other man, and left him to finish the work.  James departed for America soon after, promising Martha Jane that he would send her a ticket if he found that he liked it there.

A photograph of James Williams, taken later in life.

Keeping his word, he later wrote to Martha Jane.  She wrote back, saying she would come.  He sent the ticket.  Aunt Mary, of course, protested, telling her that no decent girl would travel that far alone and unmarried.  Martha Jane next enlisted the aid of her Aunt Ellen, a favorite aunt, who had a large family of children.  Aunt Ellen told her and Aunt Mary that if Charlotte had married the man she loved, then Martha Jane could do the same.  Martha Jane Harmer arrived in Chicago, Illinois on September 15, 1881.  She was 23 years old.

James and Martha Jane had a long and happy marriage in the Chicago area, and had five children of their own.  She lived to be 76 years old, passing away in 1934.  Letters and photographs add leaves to the bare branches of a family tree and help us understand our ancestors as people and not just a series of names, dates, and locations.  It’s never known where these gems will surface – in your basement, in the basement of a close relative, or somewhere entirely different, perhaps in the papers of a more distant relative you didn’t even know existed.


1918: Spanish Flu, Attitudes toward Housekeeping, and a Little Bit about Linguistic History

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases - As ...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the more interesting aspects of writing a blog is seeing which topics attract the most interest.  In mid-December, I wrote a post about the Spanish flu (link below) and its spread across Massachusetts in 1918 and 1919.  Since then, it’s been one of my most popular posts (placing fourth most popular of the current 45 posts, actually).  So, the other day I was reviewing my notes from that post and came across an interesting column (also below) that I didn’t use at the time, but saved for later.

Spanish Flu, sometimes called the 1918 Flu Pandemic, was a worldwide pandemic and one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in humanity’s history.  Experts estimate that somewhere between 50 and 100 million people died worldwide, and that some 500 million were infected.  Stateside, one in every four people suffered some form of the Spanish flu, and the death toll was so staggering that it shortened the average US life expectancy by 12 years during the first year of the outbreak.

These days, it’s rare to come across first-hand living memories of the Spanish flu epidemic, now more than 90 years ago.  My grandfather, who grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts often spoke of his memories, but he died more than 35 years ago.  That’s why when I came across this column, in the November 1, 1918 edition of The Lowell Sun, I decided to save it.

There are a few things that are interesting about the article, from a column called Man About Town.  First, I’m also working on a post exploring the linguistic heritage of New England – said more simply, the distinctive accent and unique words and phrases we’re known for.  More specifically, I’ve been exploring the idea that we would notice ‘historical accents’ if we were able to talk with people of the past.   In the column below, the writer, uses the phrase “issue of even date” in her letter – a term, now obsolete, that she uses to refer to “today’s edition” of the newspaper.

Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16...

Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16, 1918, during the "Spanish flu" influenza pandemic. - Image via Wikipedia.

Another interesting comment about the letter is the writer’s reaction against the “fresh air” idea that was so prevalent during the epidemic.  Soon after Spanish flu emerged, fresh air was thought to be one way to protect against infection.  Open-air emergency camps were quickly set up across Massachusetts to treat the infected.  And, amidst all of the fear, one newspaper columnist proposed that a messy home and poor housekeeping put people at a greater risk of infection.  An irritated reader wrote the following response, taking him to task for assuming that her house was “in a dirty condition” just because the Spanish flu had invaded her home.

From the Friday, November 1, 1918.  Lowell Sun, Page 18.

Dear Sir: 

In your issue of even date you say you wish we could have a national, state, or municipal statute to enforce personal and household cleanliness among industrial families.  You state you have thought about it more particularly since the Spanish influenza has been prevalent because the social workers tell you of unsanitary homes (bordering on being in a state of filth) and that this causes the disease to thrive more than any other single agency.

I am writing this in all kindness and good feeling toward the Man About Town, but I do not like to think that because I happen to have a case of Spanish influenza in my home, it was brought about because my home was kept in a dirty condition.  I am

Sincerely yours,

A MAN ABOUT TOWN READER

The Man About Town responded, and his counterpoint also exhibits the general thinking of the time, regarding WWI-era thoughts about women, housekeeping, and protection against infections:

The Man About Town’s Response:

A woman wrote this.  No name was signed to it, but I can tell a woman’s handwriting and sometimes detect the feminine process of thinking.  I rather think she is a good housekeeper and her house is kept in a clean condition.  If it got to that point where she wanted me to personally inspect her home and qualify as a judge of a clean home, or, if she had any lingering doubts in her own mind as to whether she was as good a housekeeper as she ought to be, I think here is a situation she and I ought to both sidestep.  I think, if judgement must be passed on her home, she and I ought to leave it to the opinion of her family doctor and of the nurse employed.  But I am satisfied to believe that this woman’s home is clean and all right.

Sometimes, veering off the beaten path of research materials (and into the land of columns and other ‘lighter’ newspaper content) can yield interesting insights into the lives and thoughts of people whose living memories have long since faded.  These insights can help us better envision as living, breathing people the names and dates of the individuals who make up our family trees.  They can also breathe life into the events and beliefs that shaped their lives and that we now read about in historical accounts.


If you were to walk . . . Boston’s North Union Station, 1895

A view of Boston's North Union Station on Causeway Street, 1895, via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

Any discussion on “Lost Boston” has to include Boston’s North Union Station, which once stood on Causeway Street, on the current site of the TD Garden (better known locally as “the Boston Garden” and by some as the “Fleet Center”).  North Union Station, which consolidated the operations of four different railroads into one building, was completed in 1893  and demolished in 1928.  Traffic through Boston’s North Union Station came mostly from Boston’s north and northeastern suburbs, although some traffic also originated from central and western Massachusetts, and even further afield from places like Maine, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada.  Soon after it opened, the Boston Sunday Globe stated that a number of people equal to the then-population of the United States (62.6 million) passed through its entrance once in every two years.

Boston, Massachusetts. Boston and Lowell Railr...

Lowell Station, Image by Boston Public Library via Flickr

North Union Station, actually three adjoined buildings, was completed in 1893 and included the former Boston & Lowell Station, which dated from 1873 and was known as just ‘Lowell Station’ to the locals.  Lowell Station, the left-most building in the photograph above (almost lost in the haze), had over 200 feet of frontage on Causeway Street and was 700 feet long.  Built by General Stark, it replaced an even earlier station, the first on the location, which dated from 1857.  The Lowell Station housed the head offices of the railroad and boasted some of the largest and most accommodating waiting rooms in the country.  Opened in December 1873, the Lowell Station quickly became known, simultaneously, as one of the finest stations in the country, and  as “Stark’s Folly”; many Bostonians thought it too grand and expensive for Boston’s needs.  Even after its absorption into the larger North Union Station, Lowell Station remained somewhat distinct, retaining its own waiting rooms and toilets.  The station also housed the inward baggage room.

On the other end of North Union Station was the “office tower” (the right-most and closest building in the photograph above).  The top two stories of the structure served mostly as offices.  Its ground floor contained the outward baggage room and space that had been leased to the express companies.  The Causeway Street frontage of the building included a 45-foot tower; the reminder of the building measured over 300 feet in length.

North Union Station, Boston, Mass.

Boston's North Union Station - Main Entrance, via Boston Architectural Club Catalog, via Wikimedia Commons

Connecting them was a central building sporting a rather elaborate set of stone columns, which had been designed by the architecture firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, the same firm that designed Boston’s first skyscraper, the Ames Building, which also dated to 1893.  In other photographs, the name “Union Station” appears, prominently carved above its entrance.  Connecting these three main buildings were two corridor structures, known as ‘midways’.  The view from the interior of one of the midways appears below:

Courtesy of: One hundred and fifty glimpses of Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Concord ... By John Francis Murphy

Via "One hundred and fifty glimpses of Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Concord" by J. F. Murphy, 1904

Courtesy of: One hundred and fifty glimpses of Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Concord ... By John Francis Murphy

Via "One hundred and fifty glimpses of Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Concord" by J. F. Murphy, 1904

The Causeway Street facade of the entirety of North Union Station spanned 586 feet and boasted as its main entrance an archway of cut granite some 80 feet wide and 70 feet high.  Upon entering North Union Station through the arch, one would find the main waiting area, some 98 feet square, and filled with benches (or settees, as they were called) that could accommodate several hundred people.  The men’s and women’s lavatories were provided on each end of the waiting area.  Each boasted Italian marble, the latest innovations in plumbing, and were quite spacious – they could accommodate nearly 100 people.  To the right of the waiting room was the parcel room, where up to 1000 pieces of luggage could be checked at once.  To the left stood the ticket office, an elaborate system of sorting, processing and selling railroad tickets for the B&M railroad as well as other railroad companies.  The ticketing system was so large and complex that it took 18 men to run it in 1894.

By Detroit Publishing Co. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994007151/PP/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

North Union Station, Boston, 1895, via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

The scene outside Boston’s North Union Station wasn’t entirely unlike today’s.  Foot traffic and vehicle traffic clogged Causeway Street and pedestrians needed to take care crossing the street to catch their train or meet their friends arriving from points north and west of the city.  The scene above, from the Detroit Publishing Company’s photograph collection, dates from 1895. To arrive to, or depart from, North Union Station most relied on public transportation, i.e., electric cars, if they lived beyond a comfortable walking distance.  The station’s hack stand was designed so that its waiting area was under the station’s roof, to protect waiting travelers from the elements, a luxury that was much appreciated by Boston’s masses.

Of course, if you were “of means”, you might arrive in your own personal horse-drawn buggy, such as this gentleman appears to be doing:

By Detroit Publishing Co. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994007151/PP/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

North Union Station - Gentleman arriving, 1895, via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

Like today, people rushed to and from Boston’s North Union Station.  The station’s train shed was said to be the largest in the world, covering nearly 6 acres and boasting over 20 tracks.

Union Station, Boston - 1895, via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

Below, passengers disembark from an electric car outside Boston’s North Union Station.  The station had an extensive newsstand just inside the main entrance to the left, as well as its own barber shop and restaurant.

By Detroit Publishing Co. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994007151/PP/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Boston's Union Station - Arrivals, via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

Boston's Union Station - Arrivals , via Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the end, Boston’s North Union Station stood only for a few decades before it was demolished and replaced with the Boston Garden (and a new North Station) in 1928.  The Boston Garden, itself demolished in 1997, and replaced by the TD Garden, saw many celebrities perform under its roof, including The Beatles (1964), James Brown (1968), the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead (multiple times).  The Garden also saw many championship seasons from the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.  Today, the TD Garden stands at the site, with yet another North Station underneath.   Even in its day, the North Union Station had its detractors, who claimed the building’s beauty was too extravagant and came at too great a price.  Others claimed its incorporation of three very different buildings was incongruous, and well, just plain ugly.  Seen today, more than 80 years after its demolition, North Union Station is seen in a much kinder light.  It becomes a part of the lore of “Lost Boston” and elicits a certain sense of nostalgia for a part of Boston that no longer exists.


Abraham Lincoln’s Visit to Lowell, 1848

If you spend a considerable amount of time reading turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century editions of the local papers of Lowell, Massachusetts, you’ll soon come across the name of Samuel P. Hadley, who presided as a Justice for the Lowell Police Court for close to three decades.  In fact, I think a few of the people I’ve researched for columns . . . and even genealogy, might have met Justice Hadley in his courtroom once or twice.  Justice Hadley was very active in local history too, and was a president of the Lowell Historical Society.

[Abraham Lincoln, Congressman-elect from Illin...

Abraham Lincoln, Congress-elect from Illinois - Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Justice Hadley spent a good amount of his later years recording his memories.  As the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth approached just over 100 years ago, Lowell’s historical society took note that they knew of just one man who still recalled Lincoln’s visit to Lowell some sixty years before, in 1848.  At the time, Hadley was just 16 years old, but already quite interested in politics.  He and his family considered themselves democrats, but Hadley recalled being intrigued by the rival Whig party and wanting to know more.

Hadley remembered walking up Lowell’s Central Street on September 14, 1848, and pausing when he saw a sheet of white paper, a yard long and two feet wide, with large black block letters inviting passersby to City Hall two days later, on a Saturday evening, to see the Hon. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

On the evening of September 16, 1848, a pleasant evening as Hadley recalled it, he walked into Lowell from his home in Middlesex Village.  As he turned the corner of Carleton and Hovey’s, he realized he was late, and could hear applause and laughter already escaping from the hall. He entered City Hall, and found a seated crowd, listening, entertained, to a man telling a story.  Even the ladies in the gallery had joined in the laughter.  Hadley noted that many prominent members of the local Whig party, Lincoln’s then-party, were present on the platform. Hadley later learned that the man speaking to the crowd was a young Abraham Lincoln, who would have been less than 40 years old at the time.  Hadley described him as a tall man who was dressed in dark clothing and wore a collar turned over a black silk cravat.  He noted that the man, who stood well over six feet tall, stooped somewhat and had long arms, that moved animatedly as he spoke.  He also noticed Lincoln’s dark complexion and nearly black hair.  Lincoln’s eyes, he described as bright, humorous, but reflecting a quiet sadness.   He found him forceful and candid, rather than eloquent.  While Hadley listened to him speak, Lincoln added amusing illustrations to his stories, and had a peculiar way of laughing that included shaking his sides, which caused the audience to laugh even more.  He also noted Lincoln’s strange way of pronouncing his words, “in a manner not usual in New England“.

Hadley listened to Lincoln for nearly 45 minutes, laughing at his stories.  He lamented that he couldn’t recall the details of the stories when he set down to record the memory some 60 years later.  Lincoln ended the speech to rounds of applause that filled the hall, and went to take his seat.  Before he could sit, though, Mr. Woodman stepped forward, and whispered in Lincoln’s ear.  Lincoln needed to stoop to hear Woodman, but nodded and came back to address the audience on the candidacy of General Zachary Taylor as the candidate of the Whig party for the presidency.

It’s interesting to read and consider the newspaper coverage that Lincoln’s appearance received the next day.  In his paper, Hadley provides the articles as they appeared in the Lowell Courier on the following Monday, September 18, 1848:

Alfred Gilman's report on Lincoln's Visit to Lowell, Massachusetts, September 1848

The second half of Alfred Gilman's report, 1848

Justice Hadley finished his recollection, stating that he was fairly certain that Lincoln had stayed in Lowell that Saturday night – since the trains to Boston ran no later than 6:30 in the evening during those days.  He did not know where Lincoln had stayed, but speculated that he most likely stayed with the Chairman of the Central Committee, Linus Child, or with another Lowell dignitary, Homer Bartlett, who both lived in the same block on Kirk Street in Lowell’s downtown section.


Unexpected Family Tree Finds – Western Electric’s Merrimack Valley Works

Sometimes, you need to work really hard to land the latest find in your family tree discoveries.  Sometimes, family history finds just fall in your lap.  Before going to work yesterday morning, I stopped at the barber shop, and checked Facebook while waiting for my turn in the chair.  And I found – quite a find.

A while back, I wrote a post about the Lawrence History Center, a small-city archive dedicated to preserving and sharing the  history of the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  For a few weeks now, I’ve been following their Facebook feed, which today delivered the find that made my genealogical day – a link to a video from 1959, showing Western Electric‘s manufacturing plant in North Andover, Massachusetts.

Western Electric eventually became AT&T, which spun off into Lucent Technologies, which today is Alcatel-Lucent.  Growing up in northeastern MassachusettsMerrimack Valley, Western Electric always played a large part in my life.  Most kids in my class had parents or relatives who worked at the Merrimack Valley Works plant, as it was called.  At its peak, 12,000 people worked there – including my parents.

My dad started there in 1960, my mom a year later.  A year after that, they met.  Many years after that, I visited the plant – during annual open houses.  But, I’ve always been curious what working there was like, especially in those first years, which today seem so long ago.  Sure, there’s the show Mad Men, which provides some great fictional insight into the life of ad men on New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960’s.  But, I’ve been fairly certain that life at a Western Electric plant that was manufacturing equipment for the Bell System was quite different.  And after watching the video, I think I was right.

The video, from the AT&T Archives, lasts about thirteen minutes and shows views of North Andover, Massachusetts where the plant was located, as well as nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts.  The idea behind the 1959 video was to emphasize the relationship between the plant, the larger community, and its employees.  Even if you don’t have a family connection to the plant, the video shows some interesting views into the Merrimack Valley of 1959 as well as what a mid-century working environment at one of the region’s key employers was like.


A Look Back at 1911 – Events from a Century Ago

Happy New Year, readers!  And best wishes for a successful and prosperous 2012!  While I’ve been browsing through old family photographs and correspondence, I came across some old postcards, mostly from the 1911-1914 period.  One of the first I found was this one, wishing a happy 1911.  As we approach a new year, it’s common to reflect on the one that’s ending.  This post will explore some of the themes and stories that were present in our ancestors’ minds a century ago, as 1911 came to a close.

Soldiers from the Scots Guards open fire on the cornered anarchists in the Siege of Sidney Street in London, 3 January 1911. Image is from a 1911 postcard illustrating the siege.

The year began with the world following the Siege of Sidney Street (also known as the Battle of Stepney), in London, where two members of a group of burglars with anarchist leanings were killed in a blaze that consumed their hideout and embroiled then-Home Secretary Winston Churchill in a controversy regarding his role in the skirmish.

Scenes from the Mexican Revolution via Wikipedia

A major news story of 1911 was the ongoing Mexican Revolution, which had started in 1910 and raged throughout the year, resulting in the May 1911 overthrow of longtime president/dictator Porfirio Diaz, who had led the  country since 1876.  By March, such concern arose in the United States over what had become a civil war in Mexico that the US sent 20,000 troops to the border along with 15 warships.  By November, the leader of the opposition forces of the revolution, Francisco L Madero came to power and assumed a presidency that would last less than two years when he was assassinated by military leaders who had remained loyal to Porfirio Diaz’s ideals.

In February 1911, the world watched with horror as famine raged across China causing thousands of deaths and untold suffering.

In the year’s first celebrity wedding, in February, John Beresford, or Lord Decies – an Anglo-Irish army officer, married Helen Vivian Gould, a socialite and daughter of a railroad executive and an American actress.  Scandal rocked the US Senate in March, when an investigation looking into accusations of bribery and unethical campaign activities against Senator William Lorimer (R-IL) culminated in a failure to unseat him.  A second investigation begun later in 1911 resulted in his unseating during 1912.

March 25, 1911 First published on front page of The New York World 1911-03-26, via Wikipedia

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire hit New York City on March 25, 1911, resulting in the deaths of 146 men, women, and girls.  It remains the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City, and the third-largest disaster in the city’s history.  The majority of the victims, mostly women aged between 14 and 48 years of age, were recent Jewish and Italian immigrants who died from fire, smoke inhalation, or from jumping from the building’s eighth, ninth, or tenth story-windows to the street below.  An investigation after the fire learned that managers had locked the doors leading to the stairwells and exits.

Great advances were made in the field of aviation during 1911.  Pierre Prier, a pilot from France, flew a monoplane from London to Paris without stopping, covering the 290 miles in about four hours.  A non-stop flight today takes a little less than 90 minutes.  Harry Nelson Atwood flew 576 miles on July 14 from Boston to the White House lawn and in August, flew from St. Louis to New York, making 11 stops over a 1250 mile distance.  Before the end of the year, Calbraith Perry Rodgers made history when he completed the first flight across the United States on November 5, 1911.

June 1911 saw the coronation of King George V, who remained Britain’s monarch through World War I and until he died in 1936.  June also marked the silver wedding anniversary of President Taft and his wife Helen Herron Taft.  Some 8,000 guests arrived for the gala held at the White House on June 19.  The RMS Olympic, of the same set of White Star ocean liners that included the Titanic, completed its maiden transatlantic voyage when it pulled into New York in June.

Astor and his wife Madeleine

During the summer of 1911, the country commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Bull Run, the Civil War’s first big battle.  In September, the US watched another wedding – this one between John Jacob Astor and Madeline T. Force.  She would later survive the Titanic disaster.  He would not.

1911, specifically October, saw many deaths of the famous.  On October 2, Read Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, hero of the Spanish-American war‘s Battle of Santiago Bay, died.    About two weeks later, on October 14, Justice John Marshall Harlan of the US Supreme Court died.  Justice Harlan, a lawyer and politician from Kentucky, was a strong supporter of Southern segregation statutes and the criminalization of interracial marriage.  By the end of October, on the 29th, Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist most famous for his namesake journalism award, died while aboard his yacht in Charleston Harbor.

In November, Henry Clay Beattie, Jr. was put to death in Virginia’s electric chair for the murder of his young wife, Louise.  Just weeks after the birth of their child, Beattie killed Louise while on a car ride late at night.  He initially tried to blame a “highwayman” for the crime, but his story quickly fell apart.  After his execution, he was buried, ironically, in the family plot next to the body of his murdered wife.

Real photo postcard of rubble of the Los Angeles Times Building after the 1910 bombing via Wikipedia

1911 closed with confessions obtained for what was then termed the “crime of the century”.  In December, two Irish American trade unionists, John J. McNamara, and James B. McNamara, admitted to the 1910 dynamiting of the Los Angeles Times building and the Llewellyn Iron Works, respectively.  At the conclusion of the trial, James was sentenced to life in imprisonment and John sentenced to 15 years.  James’ crime, the bombing of the LA Times Building resulted in the deaths of 21 newspaper employees and injured 100 more.

These events and names, so popular in our ancestors’ lives of a century ago, may not be so well-known today, but the themes – tragedy, war, and celebrity still ring familiar. 1912 might be best known today for the sinking of the Titanic on April 15.  It’s also known as the year in which New Mexico and Arizona became US states.  What will 2012 be known for?  What new histories will be written?

Happy New Year, readers, and best wishes for a successful and prosperous 2012!