Category Archives: Massachusetts

Yesterday’s Telephone Numbers: GLenview, MOntrose, and ULysses

In those long ago days before cellphones, speed dialing, and stored numbers, folks like Tommy Tutone telephoned girls like ‘Jenny’ by actually dialing 867-5309.  If he was a modern type, he may have even punched the number into the telephone’s touchtone keypad, an innovation that was several years old by the time the song was released in 1981.

And, 20 years earlier, in 1962, Gladys Horton and the Marvelettes sang of a woman who urged men to call her at BEechwood 4-5789 so they could “have a date, any ol’ time”.

A generation before, in 1940, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, memorialized the phone number of Manhattan’s Hotel Pennsylvania with the song PEnnsylvania 6-5000.

Do you find it easier to remember the telephone numbers of your childhood home or friends, than those of any one of the ten cellphones and landlines in your family today?  There was something about dialing a telephone number (or even punching it into a touchtone number pad) that helped commit it to memory.

The telephone companies didn’t always think so, though.  As seven-digit phone numbers were introduced during the middle of the 20th century, companies like New England Telephone and Telegraph added exchange names to existing phone numbers to help people remember the two digits added to the beginning of their phone numbers.  Locally, the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company called its telephone exchange names ‘central offices’ when they were implemented in the early 1950′s.  In September 1954, in Massachusetts, along came GLenview for Lowell, ULysses for Tewksbury, NIagara for Tyngsboro, and MYrtle for Westford.  (ALpine for Chelmsford came soon after.)  The two initial letters of the central office names, always capitalized, represented the two initial numbers of the phone number to be dialed.  Hence, as it’s explained below, GL3-2181 becomes 453-2181:

New England Telephone, 1954

The idea behind central office names, beyond helping memories and expanding the pool of available numbers, was to enable ‘wide range dialing’, or allowing people to dial American and Canadian numbers directly into their telephones, without the assistance of an operator. The new system also standardized the numbering system and ensured that each telephone received a unique number.  Under this system, telephone numbers contained three components:  an area designation (now known as an area code), a Central Office designation (consisting of the first two letters of the central office name and the first number thereafter, and the station number (or the last four digits of the telephone number).

New England Telephone and Telegraph, 1964

So, how did it work?  If you were dialing within a central office (or telephone exchange name), you needed only to dial the five figures, as explained above.  If you wanted to call outside of your central office, the two letters were added.

There’s something nostalgic and ‘mid-century sounding’ to a phone number like BEechwood 45789, or more locally, GLenview 8-6361, which was the telephone number to reach one of Lowell’s largest department stores, the Bon Marché.  Today, in an era of Skype and email and text messages, it’s hard to imagine the same sort of nostalgia being attached to a phone number.


When Eastern Massachusetts was the Frontier, 1695

Maybe you’ve come through Billerica.  On the northern approach, near the North Billerica commuter rail station, lies the site of the John Rogers homestead, marked by a sign erected by the Massachusetts Tercentenary Commission in 1930.  The sign memorializes an event that happened even longer ago on today’s Billerica Avenue.  Early in Billerica’s history, during the Indian Massacre of 1695, the homestead of John Rogers was destroyed.  The sign once reported that the entire Rogers family was killed.  Later, those words were grayed out after researchers learned that several of the Rogers’ children had escaped and survived.

Photograph of the sign marking the site of the John Rogers Homestead, courtesy of Elizabeth Thomsen (Flickr)

That’s only part of the story.  The massacre at Billerica in 1695 was just one of a series of ‘Indian raids’ that formed part of King William’s War.  Relations between the colonial powers of France and England had been strained since 1689.  Both countries encouraged their respective American Indian allies to raid the other’s colonies in New France (now Canada), Acadia (now Canada and Maine), and New England.  As the war between France and England wore on, the raids crept closer and closer to Billerica and the town militia fervently guarded its borders.  Prior attacks had hit Dover (New Hampshire), Salmon Falls, and Falmouth Neck (today’s Berwick, Maine and Portland, Maine, respectively). Even though Billerica residents had felt themselves safe from the raids, being far south of the frontier with the French colonies, they still cringed at stories of English colonists in the more northerly settlements being killed, or captured during the raids and sold into captivity.

Map of Massachusetts, 1827, Anthony Finley (1790-1840)

With a wary eye, Billerica learned of the raids growing increasingly closer.  During September 1691, two raids hit Dunstable (Mass.).  A raid attacked Lancaster, Mass. less than a year later in July 1692.  The raids did come to Billerica – in 1692, three years before the raid on John Rogers house.

In August 1692, the town’s first massacre occurred near today’s Pollard Street.  Surviving records record little.  Indians raided two households near the current site of the North Cemetery.  In the first, Joanna Dutton, a widow whose husband had died of smallpox, was killed.  Her children, Mary and Benoli Dunkin were also slain.  In the next household, the raids claimed Ann Shed along with her daughters Agnes and Hannah.  Both mothers were 36 at the time; their children ranged in age from two to 16.  Mrs. Dutton was survived by five of her children.  Three of Mrs. Shed’s children survived.

The second, larger massacre occurred in early August nearly three years later, in 1695.  Town records recorded 15 people dead or taken captive, from four of the few houses that then stood east of the Concord River, in Billerica’s northern section.  According to the contemporary account written by Dr. Mather, the Indian raiders came upon the townspeople at high noon and in broad daylight.  The home of John Rogers, its site marked today by the Indian Raid sign, was raided first.  They found the farmer asleep in his bed and shot him through the neck.  Rogers awoke, ripped the arrow from his neck, and died holding it in his hand.  A woman, witnessing the attack, only survived by escaping through a window and hiding inside a pile of flags in the yard.  The Indians scalped a second woman, who survived and lived for many years afterward.  John Rogers’ son, Daniel, 12, and his daughter, Mercy were captured by the Indians.  Another four children escaped.

"The Abduction of Daniel Boone's Daughter by the Indians" by Karl Ferdinand Wimar, 1853

The raid fell upon the home of John Levistone next.  Levistone’s mother-in-law and his five young children were killed.  Another daughter, eleven-year-old Sarah, survived, but was taken captive.  The third house raided belonged to John Rogers’ younger brother, Thomas, who was killed along with his son.  The last home raided belonged to Mary Allen, whose sister, Martha Carrier, had been hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692, and whose husband, Dr. Roger Toothaker, had been accused of witchcraft there and died in prison soon after.  Mary Allen died in the Indian raid; her youngest daughter was captured.  Word of the attacks soon reached Billerica Town Center, whose residents chased after the fleeing Indians.  The Indians easily escaped into the woods.  Town residents soon realized that the Indians had planned their escape well and had even muzzled their dogs.

Today, the sign near the North Billerica commuter rail station memorializes the site of the John Rogers homestead, the only raid site that has been definitively identified.  The identification was possible because, at least as late as the 1880′s, a well used by John Rogers was still visible.  Also, bricks that had been brought from England were found in the homestead’s cellar.  Historians have since proposed that the Levistone household was located  southeast of the Rogers Homestead, perhaps along present-day Mt. Pleasant Street or High Street.    Estimations of the locations of the homes of Thomas Rogers and the Toothakers have placed them at the site of the present-day MBTA west parking lot and the point where the Middlesex Canal leaves the Concord River, respectively.


The Release of the 1940 US Census – April 2, 2012

On April 2, 2012, at 9 AM (EST), the National Archives will release the 1940 US census schedules at  http://1940census.archives.gov/.  The release, administered by The National Archives in partnership with archives.com, will mark the first time a census has been released online.  Site visitors will gain free access to view, search, print, and download the 1940 census schedules at the site.  The National Archives has already released a video on its YouTube channel providing information on the 1940 census, the archives’ preparations for its release, and instructions showing how to access the census after April 2:

Family tree historians have long scoured census records for basic information about their ancestors: names, approximate ages/birthplaces, and occupations.  Every ten years, since the first US federal census in 1790, the United States census has counted all individuals living in US homes.  The results are then used to determine the allocation of congressional seats and electoral votes.  The most recent census, the country’s 22nd, was executed in 2010.  The census is a requirement established by the US Constitution and is overseen by the United States Census Bureau.  Aggregated census data is available to the public soon after the census is taken.  The actual census records and data specific to individuals is withheld for 72 years.  The 1930 US census was released to the public in April 2002.  The 1940 census will be released next month.

1940 Census Population Questionnaire - Photo courtesy of the Public Information Office - U.S. Census Bureau.

The information collected by each census, as well as the questions asked for each, have varied over the years.  In the 1940 census, for the first time, enumerators asked respondents new questions to determine if they had worked for the CCC, WPA, or NYA (all components of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs) in late March 1940, as well as how much annual income they had earned during 1939.  The census also asked married women, widows, and divorcees their age at their first marriage as well as if they had been married more than once.  Also, for the first time, enumerators were instructed to add an “x” after the name of the person who answered the enumerator’s questions.

April 1940

Sen. Charles W. Tobey, was a vocal opponent of the 1940 census, more specifically, the inclusion of questions in the census asking for income information.  For the first time, this census asked respondents for information about their income.  Those opposing the collection of the information nearly succeeded in getting the question stricken from the instructions given to the enumerators.  In the end, though, as a compromise, the US government made available forms that people could mail in, if they did not want to provide the information to the enumerators.  The government published large numbers of the forms, but few were actually used.  Sen. Tobey was still not satisfied.  As late as census day, The Portsmouth Herald reported that he was still encouraging people not to answer the financial questions on the grounds that they invaded citizens’ privacy.

The census counted all people who were alive as of April 1, 1940 at 12:01 AM.  Babies born later on that day were not counted, while people who had died after 12:01 AM were.   The execution of the 1940 census was the largest yet, and included more questions than any of the prior censuses had before it.

As April 1940 began, approximately 120,000 enumerators descended upon the country to count each inhabitant.  Each enumerator had been provided a white, 4″x3″ identification card with a photograph and signature.  Unless respondents wanted to risk incurring a $100 fine, they were obligated to answer all questions, except for the ones regarding financial information, which could be mailed to the Census Bureau in Washington.

January 1941 - Commuters, who have just come off the train, waiting for the bus to go home, Lowell, Mass. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Locally, in Lowell, Massachusetts, fifty enumerators descended upon the city.  A newspaper article from the day before revealed some of the prevailing thoughts among the citizenry as they thought ahead to census day.  William Tully, the Lowell Sun reporter writing the article, noted that local women felt reluctant to give their ages to census enumerators.  Through interviews documented within the article, Tully spoke with various women.  One thought that certain facts should not be collected, like income, since it was already captured in the income tax returns.  She also thought collecting information about the amount of a mortgage on one’s home was unnecessary.

Another woman, who worked in the executive office of a large department store in downtown Lowell, replied:  “I know nothing about the census questions and I haven’t, as yet, looked into the matter.  As a rule, my husband knows more about these things than I do.”

April 1940

Another woman, a salesgirl in a local department store, replied:  “I’m not going to answer any questions about my age.  Oh, I suppose I’ll have to answer their old questions, but it won’t be cheerfully.”  When asked about the census questions:  ‘Has this women been married more than once?’  and ‘age at first marriage?’, she quipped:  “it’s none of their business.  And if you quote me on that, I’ll smash you.”

“What in the world is the government going to do with information like that?”  Another woman asked the reporter, who admitted he had no idea.  “Neither have I,” she continued, “and I think the whole thing is foolish.”

The US Census Bureau’s web site lists some interesting comparisons between life in 1940 and life today.  In 1940, for example, the average life expectancy was 61 years for men and 65 for women.  Today, the average life span has expanded some 15 years, with male life expectancies reaching 76 years and female life expectancies reaching 81.  Also, in 1940, nearly three in every four (73%) women over the age of 25 had not finished high school.  Today, only 14% in that group have not completed high school.

Family tree historians eagerly await the release of the 1940 census on April 2, 2012, at 9 AM (EST).  For many, it’s the first census in which they will find themselves or their parents.  It’s also the first census that will be released online for the public’s free access, either from the facilities of the National Archives or from the convenience of researchers’ homes.  Readers, what are you hoping to find in the 1940 census?  Where will you start looking?


Remembering Downtown Lowell’s Bon Marché through the Years, 1878-1976

To mourn the loss of the Bon Marché Department Store in Downtown Lowell is almost like mourning the loss of a beloved grandparent.  On the day the Bon Marché closed, its faithful came out one last time to reflect on their relationship with the store, and to discuss among themselves what its loss would mean to Downtown Lowell.  As the Bon Marché prepared to close its doors for the final time at 5:30 PM on January 10, 1976, customers picked through its remaining inventory and expressed their mixed feelings about the new Jordan Marsh branch that would open in its place.  As she shopped in the Bon Marché one last time, Anita Angers told the Lowell Sun: “This is awful.  I’ve shopped here for years.  Oh, I like Jordan’s.  I go to the mall for Jordan’s, but I don’t like Bon Marché leaving.  It’s a sad day for Lowell.”  Betty Cook offered The Sun a different perspective:  “I think it’s great.  I’ve shopped here for 10 years, but I’m glad Jordan’s is coming.”

Merrimack Street looking east, Lowell, Mass. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Bon Marché Store Directory from 1928

For generations, the Bon Marché offered six floors of wares to Downtown Lowell.  Below ground, on its basement level, the store sold kitchenware, groceries, and electrical household equipment.  Walk in from the street and you would find  hosiery, gloves, and shoes on its first floor.  One floor up, dresses, coats, and corsets were sold.  The third floor featured the gift shop, mirrors, and dinnerware.  Music was the theme on the fourth floor, where radios, Victrolas, and records could be found.  The top floor included the beauty shop, barber shop, and the store’s executive offices.  The Bon Marché offered it all.

But, to tell the real story of the Bon Marché is to tell the story of Downtown Lowell.  If you’ve grown up or spent any time in Downtown Lowell, you’ve heard of the Bon Marché department store, which operated for decades on Merrimack Street.  Its takeover by Allied Department Stores, the same chain that owned Jordan Marsh, mirrors the same fate that happened to lots of independent, locally-owned department stores in the mid-20th century.  And, its eventual demise on Downtown Lowell’s Merrimack Street mirrors the fate of many long-time downtown merchants as mid-century Lowell rolled into the 1970′s.

The Bon Marché was born during Downtown Lowell’s heyday.  Its founder, Frederic Mitchell opened his first store on Merrimack Street in 1878.  A native of Lowell, Mitchell was educated in the local schools and, in the wake of the Civil War at the age of 16, became a pattern maker.  Soon after, he decided to try his hand at the dry goods business and found work with A. C. Skinner, who then owned and operated a small Merrimack Street store.  Mitchell eventually left the dry goods business and went to California where he speculated in cattle and sheep.  Upon his return to Lowell in the late 1870′s, he opened his first dry good store named ‘This is Mitchell’s‘ on Merrimack Street.  He traded for his first merchandise, exchanging his ranch in California for his new store’s first wave of inventory, sight unseen.  From humble beginnings, the store grew into the Bon Marché of later years, eventually acquiring its well-known name within a few years.

The store’s initial merchandising efforts followed the trends of the day, and much of the store’s wares were sold outside, on Merrimack Street in draped packing cases.  Mitchell could predict with reliable accuracy that his millworker customers would descend on his storefront once monthly, right after they received their monthly wages.  Millworkers waited until ‘the ghost walked’, as they said, and then went to the stores of the day to buy the wrappers, yards of cloth, and silverware that they had been eyeing during the entire month before.  During the three weeks between pay days, Mitchell and his counterparts chased tramps away from their racks of clothes and planned for the next onslaught of millworkers, each one armed with newly-earned cash.

The history of the Bon Marché can be traced through its advertisements to Lowell residents through the years.  Even in its early years, the Bon Marché billed itself as the largest department store in New England and touted its great deals, often obtained through efficient bargaining with its own suppliers.  The Bon Marché got its name from French words translating roughly to a ‘good bargain’.  A typical ad from the time, published during the Christmas season of 1898, was entirely text-based and announced a combination of its offerings to customers and its superior negotiations with suppliers.  Intermixed with offers for china, dolls, men’s suspenders, and ladies’ shirt waists were transcriptions of correspondence from suppliers who had been ‘forced’ to accept ridiculous offers received from the buyers of the Bon Marché, the savings from which had been passed along to customers.

A Lowell Sun advertisement from December 1898

An advertisement for The Bon Marche, 1908

An advertisement for the Bon Marche, 1918

While Lowell progressed through the first years of the twentieth century, the advertisements of the Bon Marché evolved to make use of advancing technology.  Pictures of the store’s merchandise were added to its ads, and the spare heading of its late nineteenth-century ads was substituted out for the more-familiar cursive-based heading that remained the store’s logo well into the twentieth century.  By 1908, the store’s advertisements (at left) carried offers of ice cream, which could be bought by the gallon for a dollar, or in smaller portions with hot chocolate for a more affordable five cents.  And, while Greater Lowell lived through the first World War, the Bon Marché offered its patrons an opportunity to support the US war effort by buying thrift and war stamps (at right).  The Bon Marché also collected peach pits that were used by the government in gas masks.  As the Bon Marché celebrated its 40th anniversary during that year, it continued to offer the latest trends in coats, suits, dresses, muffs, and petticoats, all first quality and at prices that ‘could not be duplicated’.

An advertisement for the Bon Marche, 1928

By 1928, the Bon Marché had become an established member of the Downtown Lowell retailing community and heavily touted its anniversary celebrations.  In 1928, at its fiftieth anniversary, a ten-day sale was prominently advertised in the local press.  The Bon Marché continued to sell the latest in fashions and also began to carry radios, at prices which were good for the time, but high in comparison to today’s prices.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that $137.50 you would have spent for a radio in 1928 would set you back something north of $1,800 in today’s money.

Ten years later, in 1938, the Bon Marché planned another ten-day celebration, with a focus on remembering its founders.  Store managers decorated the store’s interior and exterior in patriotic colors.  Clerks were asked to wear badges that matched the theme.  Sales were advertised in all six floors of the store and streamers had been strewn throughout.  The sixtieth anniversary celebration also honored its employees at a pre-sale banquet at the nearby Rex Grille.  Also, pins were awarded to employees who had more than five years of service with the store.

In a testament to Bon Marché as an employer and to the long-term employment mentality of the time, the Bon Marché and The Lowell Sun ran a special feature on September 30, 1938, showing all employees who had more than 10 years with Bon Marché.  There were 62.  All appear in this full-page advertisement, produced below:

From the Lowell Sun, 9/30/1938, Bon Marché employees with 10 or more years of service

A few years later, as the Bon Marché and the rest of the downtown community lived through WWII, the store instituted wartime hours and again offered war bonds and stamps to its customers to support the war effort.  Lowell experienced a brief economic boom in the war years, mostly from the increased need for clothing produced by its remaining textile mills and its involvement in munitions manufacturing.

January 1943

Later in the 1940′s, as the Bon Marché celebrated its 70th anniversary, the wartime business boom that had fueled increased sales slowed and sale levels returned to normal.  By the time of its 70th anniversary sale in 1948, the store heavily advertised its ‘rock bottom’ prices and the convenience offered by its charge account.

1948

The economic difficulties experienced by Lowell’s downtown merchants continued into the 1950′s.  The city’s last two major textile mills, the Boott Mills and the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, both closed before the Bon Marché 80th anniversary celebration in 1958:

1958

And, the economic malaise continued in Lowell past the store’s 90th anniversary sale in 1968:

1968

1976

The Bon Marché Department Store closed its doors for the last time on January 10, 1976, after surviving several decades of Lowell’s declining economic climate downtown.  Lowell’s unemployment rate entered double digits.  The store’s closure marked the end of a Downtown Lowell institution that had survived nearly a century.  From its small-time beginnings as “This is Mitchell’s” in the last years of the nineteenth century to its last years as a subsidiary of a larger corporation, the Bon Marché Department Store served generations of Lowellians as they sought to buy clothes, housewares, and electronics.  During the changeover in 1976, rumors emerged that Jordan Marsh, the store that replaced the Bon Marché, had only committed to a three-year trial period in downtown Lowell.  In the end, Jordan Marsh stayed in Downtown Lowell, for more than a decade – not leaving until the early 1990′s.  The Jordan Marsh chain, itself with deep New England roots, disappeared in 1996, when the last of its stores were converted to the Macy’s name.

The story of the Bon Marché follows closely the story of the rise and subsequent fall of downtown Lowell as it lost the textile industry to which it owed its founding.  The Bon Marché survived several economic slowdowns, the Great Depression, the loss of the city’s mills, and the loss of downtown shoppers to suburban strip malls.  Unfortunately, the Bon Marché didn’t live to see Lowell’s resurgence, which began in earnest with the establishment of the city’s National Historical Park, which occurred just after the store’s closing.

Readers, do you have memories of the Bon Marché that you would like to share?  Please add them to the comments below.

1976


The Memorial Hall and Public Library of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1893

Lowell's Memorial Building and Public Library, ca. 1905

Today, Downtown Lowell’s Memorial Hall is mostly known for the Pollard Memorial Library it houses, named for the city’s late mayor Samuel S. Pollard.  For its first 90 years, until its renaming in 1981, Lowell residents and visitors knew it as the Lowell City Library.

The library’s building, Memorial Hall, was built to remember the sacrifices of Lowell’s Civil War dead.  Local surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) expected that the Hall would provide them a meeting place, at least for special occasions, if not on a regular basis.

As early as 1887, veterans and citizens of Lowell were considering a memorial to the city’s Civil War dead.  At that point, Lowell residents and the memorial committee of the G.A.R. hadn’t yet decided whether the memorial would be a monument or a building.  The idea of a memorial hall soon gained traction, as the members of the local Grand Army posts needed a place to meet.  The Lowell Sun wrote:  “”The veterans are growing old; they are paying heavy rent for halls, and now that a memorial building is erected, they expect to be made in some respects the beneficiaries of the city’s good will.”

Several different proposals emerged.  One involved constructing a building with an observatory that would overlook the city from

Lowell's Monument Square predates the Memorial Hall and City Hall buildings, which were constructed on the site of several frame buildings owned by the Merrimack Manufacturing Company

Fort Hill.  (This option was eventually dismissed as Fort Hill was seen as too remote for veterans, and was the location most likely to attract loafers and vacationers, rather than the veterans it was meant to serve.)  Another option would have created a municipal building with the upper floors dedicated to G.A.R. meetings.  (This option eventually morphed into Lowell’s City Hall building, which was completed a few months after Memorial Hall.)  The last, and winning, proposal called for the building of a new city library that included space for G.A.R. meetings.  All agreed that the Memorial Hall should be a ‘grand and imposing edifice’, to adequately recall the men and deeds that they hoped to commemorate.

The history of Memorial Hall is firmly intertwined with the City Hall building next to it.  (Its tower can be seen in the postcard view, above.)  Their cornerstones were laid on the same day:  October 11, 1890, and both took nearly three years to complete.  The Memorial Building opened to much fanfare on June 3, 1893.

A procession marched through Highland, Elm, Central, Merrimack, Moody, and Colburn streets, ending at the new Memorial Building.  Prayers were offered by Rev. Dr. Chambre.  An American quartet sang songs, and the keys to the building were presented to Mayor Pickman.  Speeches were delivered by the Mayor, members of the local posts of the G.A.R., and former mayor and future governor Frederic T. Greenhalge.

Memorial Hall and public library, Lowell, Mass, ca. 1908: Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

A bust of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was next presented to the people of Lowell by a group of African-American Bostonians who wished to see it placed in the new hall.  In a speech by their spokesman, they said the bust would be “dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives that the union might be preserved, and all men made free and equal under the law.”

The Hon. F. T. Greenhalge closed the ceremony by saying: “Long may this Memorial Library stand.  May the sun shed its brightest and softest radiance upon it.  And while one stone remains upon another, may it stand as a witness of valor and patriotic devotion – of liberty and wisdom – of the loyalty of your fathers and the love and gratitude of their children.”

As the exercises concluded, the officials opened the new building for public inspection while the quartet played “”Soldier’s Farewell”.


If Ancestors Could Talk: The Words of Nineteenth-Century New England

Eastern Massachusetts has its own way of saying things. Whether you’re drinking a tonic, or slurping a frappe, or quenching your thirst with water from a bubbler, you know you’re near Boston when the letter “r” starts migrating within sentences (think ‘supah idear’).  To linguists, New England breaks into two dialect regions:  Eastern New England and Western New England.  To speak with linguists in their jargon and to make ‘supah idears’ a topic worthy of the lecture hall, Eastern New England English, including the infamous Boston accent, is academically described as having “non-rhoticity” and as having a “broad A”.  Non-rhoticity basically means that the letter “r” is only sometimes pronounced (in words like ‘ring’ and ‘caravan’, but not in words like ‘Harvard’ or ‘yard’).  The broad “A” explains why your niece from South Boston calls you “Auntie” with the broad A of ‘saunter’ instead of pronouncing the word similar to ‘ants’.
But, if you sit down with the task of re-creating New England speech from the past, the task grows more difficult.  For one thing, as you regress back through the Victorian era, things like frappes, bubblers, and jimmies (yes, the New Englandism for “ice cream sprinkles”) begin to disappear.  And, writing phonetically – think Mark Twain‘s Huckleberry Finn – takes some time and can try the patience of your readers.  So, how do you re-create the speech of Eastern Massachusetts in, say, 1840?
Just as regional accents or dialects exist today, is there a ‘historical accent’ that we would encounter if we were to talk to a New Englander of the mid-nineteenth century?  YouTube abounds with voice recordings of past presidents:
There’s the unforgettable accent of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who grew up in Massachusetts:
There’s the lesser-known accent of Calvin Coolidge, the nation’s 30th president, from Vermont:
James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell, Image via Wikipedia

 

But, say you’re trying to get a sense of speech from even earlier, before recordings.  Say you’re trying to recreate the speech of the “common man”, or “woman”.  As you regress further and further back into the 19th century, their recorded words grow scarcer.   Unless you come across The Biglow Papers by James Russell Lowell.  In The Biglow Papers, James Russell Lowell sought to capture the speech of mid-nineteenth century New Englanders.  Published in 1848, its fame went on to inspire similar approaches to the representation of regionally influenced dialogue by Mark Twain.

So, if you could meet some of those New England-based multi-great-grandparents in your family trees, you might start to get a sense of the words they would choose and how they would pronounce them by reading The Biglow Papers.
As you read through The Biglow Papers, you’ll see familiar pronunciations of words that we still hear today:
  • ‘Actually’ becomes ‘act’lly’;
  • ‘Ask’ becomes ‘ax’;
  • ‘Dirt’ becomes ‘dut’.
It’s debatable whether these pronunciations are unique to New England or just the result of having less time for formal education and for worrying about things like annunciating every syllable.  It is interesting to note that pronouncing ‘ask’ as ‘ax’ isn’t unique to our living generations, as our grade school teachers may have insinuated when they were chiding us years ago.

"Kiss me quick", a humorous 1840's Currier and Ives print that would have been considered slightly naughty at the time. Image via Wikipedia

Further examination of the pronunciations and speech captured within the Biglow Papers picks up expressions like “to deacon off”, which means “to give the cue to do something”.  Years before Lowell wrote The Biglow Papers, a custom existed within New England churches that, as deacons read out hymns at Congregational services, the congregation was to sing them back, thus giving rise to the expression.

If someone within the congregation rubbed you the wrong way in their singing, or their mannerisms, he or she would have been known as a “crooked stick” in Lowell’s time.  And if you were to tell them, you might just “wake snakes” (get into trouble) for giving them “sarse” and they would grow “ferfle ugly” (very angry).  This is where the speech of early- to mid-19th century New Englanders really comes alive, and allows us a glimpse into just what our New England ancestors in our family trees might sound like if they could speak from the still images of those tintypes and paintings.

This post marks the first in a series on New England speech of the past.  Traveling across the United States exposes us to the country’s different accents.  Traveling across time, if it were possible, would probably expose us to the different accents of each historical era.  Listening to old recordings, the words, cadence, syntax of language all seem just perceptibly different.  What would our ancestors sound like, and which words and expressions would they use, if we were able to talk with them today?

Dating Old Photographs – The Clues that Tintypes Hold, 1890

Most family historians have THAT box.  The box always looks roughly the same.  It’s the box that belonged to the toaster your mother had three toasters ago.  Or, maybe it’s a shoebox for a pair of long-lost boat shoes from Thom McAn or a gift box from Anderson Little (remember them?).  Maybe it’s a bag from a now-defunct department store like Stuarts or Caldor.  Not long after I took up genealogy in 1988, I began inheriting boxes and bags like those, and they all had lots of photographs – old ones.  There were some color photographs from the 60′s and 70′s, black-and-white photographs from the 40′s and 50′s, and older sepia-colored photographs beneath those.

The photographs from the latter half of the 20th century are easiest to identify.  Most times, I know the subject; if not, the bell-bottoms or dark wall paneling scream 1974 . . . and a well-placed beehive will strongly suggest the decade before that.  And, once you have an approximate date, it’s fairly simple to deduce that you’re staring at your second-cousin, or Uncle Freddy as a kid, or maybe you’ve uncovered that long-lost great-aunt no one has mentioned since Thanksgiving 1981.

As you move back in time, what gets harder to identify are the black-and-white photographs.  Some have dates printed along their white borders; others have dates stamped on the back.  It’s usually pretty easy to pick out grandparents as parents and parents as children.  Great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles can also be identified, if not on sight, then by context.

Then, you get to the most interesting photographs – the tintypes, the cabinet cards, and the carte-de-visite (CDV) photographs.  These are the photographs you wish you had had when your grandparents were alive to see them.  Sometimes, you can pick out some family resemblances and these provide valuable hints.  Sometimes, you get really lucky and someone, long ago, labelled the photographs for posterity.  That usually doesn’t happen.

So, what do you do?  In 1990 or so, I got a stack of tintypes (one appears above, to the left) from an aunt, who had gotten them from my grandmother 20 years earlier.  My Aunt had no idea who they were, and the small length of ancient string that had long kept them together wasn’t talking either.  At the time, I knew they were old – probably 19th century, but wasn’t really sure how to proceed.  I had researched some genealogy at that point and knew that that branch of the family had come to Lowell in 1869 from Manchester, England.  I also knew that tintypes like the one above spanned a fairly wide range of years, from 1852 to about 1905 or so.  So, I knew that the photograph could be either English or American and that the woman could be an ancestor from any one of three generations.  That wasn’t very helpful in helping me identify her.

I looked for more clues.  The photograph, like lots of others in the 19th century, was obviously taken in a studio – the odd tree-trunk-looking thing and the landscape backdrop weren’t going to fool me.  But, tintypes don’t carry photographers’ marks.  I guessed the woman’s age to be between 30 and 35, and she appeared to be wearing a ring on her right hand, along with a bracelet, necklace, and earrings.  With a range of 1852-1905 for the photograph, though, I still needed more clues to determine her identity.  Enter fashion.

It’s pretty easy to date photographs from the late 20th century, if you spend a moment studying what people are wearing, or how they’ve fixed their hair.  The same can be said for the 19th century.  The woman in the photograph wears a dress of a common pattern known as “windowpane check”; its sleeves are the easiest indicator of a date on the early side of 1890 – the tight sleeves begin precisely at the shoulder’s tip and portray none of the exaggerated fullness that the rather well-remembered leg-of-mutton sleeves would become known for as the 1890′s wore on.  Her hair is another indicator of the late 1880′s.  The bangs aren’t cut short or styled in the large curls popular in the earlier part of the 1880′s.  Instead, she wears her bangs in a style more prevalent right around 1890.

So, a quick study of fashion can get me a guess of, say, 1890, or so, but what if she wasn’t so well-to-do, and if her dress or hair was out of fashion at the time of the photograph?  I still see people trying to sport haircuts from the early 1990′s.  I needed a little more confirmation before I set about looking for women born around 1855 in my family tree.

I looked at the other photographs, and came across this one, in a different box.  I recognized the background immediately – the bridge, the mountains.  And, that same shaggy carpet is on the studio’s floor.  I put the two photographs next to each and decided I had a match.  Both photographs came from the same studio, most likely.  I was even ready to assume they had been taken on the same day.  Why?  If you look very closely at the first photograph, above, you’ll notice in the extreme lower-right corner, the same chair that the child in the photograph at the right is sitting on.  The photographer didn’t quite succeed in moving it out of the picture.  So, the woman from 1888 had a two-year-old child.  But, I still hadn’t solved the mystery of where the photograph had been taken.  From what I knew about the branch of the family, the most likely choices were Lowell, Massachusetts or Manchester, England.  Of course, there was a chance that the photograph could’ve been taken somewhere else entirely.

That’s when I found this carte-de-visite (CDV) photograph, at left.  Do you recognize the background?  I did too.  That’s even the same chair.  This game of matching was paying off.  On the back of the CDV was the photographer’s mark (right), which can be used to help date a photograph too.  Armed with a set of city directories, I quickly determined that the photographer, Napoleon Loupret was at 51 Central Street in Lowell, Massachusetts from 1885 to 1893.  Bingo – I had a probable date (1888 or so) and a city (Lowell, Massachusetts).  I also knew that I had a family, a woman, who was about 30 or so, who had children, born sometime between 1882 and 1890.

A List of Photographers in Lowell, Massachusetts 1886

When I first started researching this photograph, I had a hunch that the woman was my second-great-grandmother, and that the children were my great-grandmother and her older brother.  The age differences were just about right.  But – once I narrowed the date range to 1885-1893, and later to about 1890 – the ages no longer worked.  My great-grandmother was the youngest of her family, but born early enough that she would have been 12 at the time of the photographs, not 2 or 3 as the children pictured clearly are.  So, the search continues, and the mystery remains unsolved, but when I do uncover and add a woman to my family tree who was born around 1855, with children born in the late 1880′s, I’ll already have photographs that just may show what she looked like in life.

Related articles


Fires of Lowell, Massachusetts – Sacred Heart School, 1967

On a cool, cloudy Saturday afternoon in early May 1967, two men simultaneously spotted the billowing smoke escaping from the first-story windows of Sacred Heart School’s “new building” on its Moore Street campus in Lowell, Massachusetts.  John J. McWilliams, an off-duty police officer, ran and activated the fire alarm at a nearby fire-box.  John Sickles, a Tewksbury resident who happened to be driving past the scene, drove to the nearby Lawrence Street firehouse and notified the firefighters inside.

Marked with a black arrow above, Sacred Heart School's "new" building once fronted Lowell's Moore Street.

At 58 years old, the “new building” was the newer of Sacred Heart School’s two school buildings on the corner of Moore and Andrews Streets in the city’s South Lowell neighborhood.  Its cornerstone had been laid on October 9, 1909 by Lowell native and then-Archbishop William H. O’Connell, who later became a Cardinal.  By 1967, the school, which served the children of parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish located across Moore Street, had grown to include the “old” and “new” buildings that served some 600 students, from grades 1-8.  The building now burning housed the younger children, through Grade 4.  The older children attended classes in the “old building”, which standing just 25 feet away, was threatened by the raging fire too.

By the time the first firefighters arrived, a few moments after 2 PM, the fire had spread past the first-floor boys’ lavatory near where it had started, through an air shaft, across the school’s gleaming oil-treated floors, and up the stairwells into its third-floor auditorium.  The first alarm company to arrive on the scene, led by Deputy Chief Mulligan, quickly determined that the three-story brick building could not be saved.  They soon called for more alarm units.  Sacred Heart School’s new building was entirely engulfed in flames before the second alarm units even reached the fire.  Five more companies arrived to fight the blaze, and to protect the surrounding neighborhood, tightly packed in the city’s South Lowell section.  They also worried for the school’s remaining building, the old building, nearby, but still untouched by the flames.

The firefighters called in two more engines.  At 2:43 PM, help was called in from surrounding communities outside Lowell.  Firefighters from Billerica, Chelmsford, Tewksbury, Dracut, Westford, Tyngsboro, Bedford, and Lawrence all answered the call.  Some assisted Lowell firefighters at the fire.  Others manned Lowell’s fire stations, while their firefighters fought the Sacred Heart School fire.  The inferno was declared a general alarm fire.  Veterans on the city’s fire department remarked it was the worst fire they had seen since the 1941 fire that had claimed the Bartlett School, more than 25 years earlier.

Firefighters directed the department’s pump-fed, high pressure lines at all four sides of the building.  They threw up a water curtain to protect the old building.  A few minutes after 3 PM, the fire began poking through the school’s roof.  Seven minutes later, firefighters were ordered out of the school when the top of its west-facing wall began to fail, spilling bricks, plaster, and other debris into Andrews Street.

Sacred Heart School's "New Building" - Lowell, Massachusetts

Police pushed back the crowds that had gathered along Andrews Street as firefighters risked death and severe injury to remove their equipment from the failing wall.  For the next hour or so, firefighters worked to contain the flames while they raced unchecked through Sacred Heart School’s new building.  Eight classrooms, an auditorium, the offices of the principal and of the school nurses, and the lavatories were all destroyed.  At 4 PM, the roof above the third-floor auditorium failed and fell into the building.  Its weight caused the floor of the third story to sag, forcing firefighters to abandon their efforts inside the building and escape using the nearest ladders and fire escapes.  More sections of the school’s roof soon failed, allowing firefighters atop aerial ladders clear access to aim their deck guns at the flames.  The fire was finally declared under control by 4:30 PM.  Smoke towered some 75 feet above the doomed school building as firefighters began to re-enter the building’s first floor and subdue any leftover trouble spots.  Chief Gendron left three companies on the scene overnight to prevent any additional outbreaks.

One firefighter lost his life fighting the blaze.  While helping fellow firefighters raise a 45-foot extension ladder on the school’s Moore Street side, John J. Wojitas, a WWII veteran and a 24-year veteran of the Lowell Fire Department, fell victim to a fatal heart attack.  He was pronounced dead upon arrival at St. John’s Hospital (now Saints Memorial).  Rev. W. Irving Monroe, the fire department’s chaplain, was on the scene of the fire and left with Wojitas when he was stricken.  Rev. Monroe returned to the scene of the fire later, delivering the news that Wojitas had died to his saddened fellow firefighters.

The school’s loss weighed heavily on the local community that had gathered to watch the efforts to save the building.  Most were graduates of, or otherwise connected to, the school.  The school’s nuns, of the order of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, stood stricken with the priests of the school’s church, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  In its aftermath, the school announced that its classes would be cancelled for a few days following the fire.  Rev. Frederick Higgins, OMI, acting as the church’s pastor while Rev. John T. McLaughlin, OMI, was recuperating in Florida from an illness, announced that plans to place students in other schools would be discussed.  By Sunday afternoon, the day after the fire, a crane had been already put in place to take down the charred ruins of the school.
The top two floors of the school were soon condemned and the city’s deputy commissioner of lands and buildings ordered that students not attend class in the school’s old building until those floors were leveled.  Some talk was made about saving the school’s first floor, but ultimately, this was leveled too.

The Rev. Bruce M. Lambert, pastor of the First United Baptist Church soon reached out to Rev. McLaughlin to offer the church the use of their facilities at Central Plaza at 99 Church Street in Lowell, which included, in his words, “a modern educational wing, with 10 classrooms, accommodating up to 300 pupils, an office and a large open basement recreation room.”  Sacred Heart officials ultimately chose to use their old building on a double session basis, for the few weeks remaining in the school year.

The school did rise again.  On September 22, 1968, a crowd of more than 2,500 people gathered to watch the dedication of the new Sacred Heart School building.  Its student body of 500 began classes there on the following day.  The Sacred Heart School band provided the crowd with a concert as dignitaries, parishioners, students, alumni, and friends looked on.  After the concert, a tour of the new building was given.  The cornerstone was laid during the ceremonies by Rev. John T. McLaughlin, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, and the Very Rev. Thomas Reddy, OMI, Oblate Provincial of the Eastern Province.  The school’s principal, Sr. Mary Kevin, SSMN, proudly looked on.

Sacred Heart School's new "New" building, dedicated in 1968. Photo from The Lowell Sun, 9/17/1968

As part of the ceremony, Fathers Reddy and McLaughlin passed through the rooms of the new school building, blessing each one, and finished by hanging a crucifix in the principal’s office.  After giving thanks to all those who helped in the rebuilding effort, Father McLaughlin told the crowd about the contents of a box which had been sealed into the new school’s cornerstone.  The box contained all of the keepsakes that had been sealed in the cornerstone of the 1909 building: copies of The Lowell Sun and the Lowell Courier-Citizen detailing the construction of the first school and its groundbreaking ceremony.  In addition to the 1909 items, new keepsakes were added to the cornerstone box:  Lowell Sun articles describing the 1967 fire that had destroyed the former school building and the new school’s groundbreaking ceremony, a Miraculous Medal, a Sacred Heart Badge, and a list of all the current priests and teaching sisters.  The priests had also added a list of parishioners, a medal of Pope Paul, a Kennedy half-dollar, and a picture of John Wojitas, the fireman who died while fighting the fire that had claimed the old school.

By the time I began attending Sacred Heart School more than a decade later, people still spoke of the great fire that had claimed the “new building”.  During my first few years at the school, we still attended classes at Sacred Heart’s “old” building, with its quaint coat rooms and ornate woodwork.  The building was eventually demolished, ten or fifteen years ago.  The school itself closed a few years later.

Do you have memories of the fire, or of Sacred Heart School or Church?  Please share them here!

Note to readers:  The Fires of Lowell series includes several other articles, including one detailing the 1904 fire of Lowell’s St. Patrick’s Church.  This post marks the fifth installment of the series.


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.