The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Boston by Broadside, part II: Fashionable Footwear

Welcome to my new series here on the Beehive: “Boston by Broadside.” Here I will use examples from the MHS’ collection of broadsides to show various views of our fair city as it used to be.


As we leave Prof. Boulet's Gymansium behind after a bracing work-out, we are ready to start exploring the city a little bit more. Since we will probably be on our feet for a while we need to make sure that we have some trusty (and stylish) footwear to get us around. With that in mind, we'll head into the city proper and proceed to 180-182 Washington St. to pay a visit to Mr. Henry Wenzell. 


As you can see from Messr. Wenzell's handsome advert, he specializes in importing the finest and most fashionable French footwear, and has for some years now. I think that I will go with a sturdy pair of boots in case we are struck with a sudden downpour on our walk. 

And now, with our toes cozy, we can set off once again to see what sights Boston-that-was has to offer us. Check back soon to stay on the trail!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 October, 2015, 4:00 PM

This Week @ MHS

The first week of October is a busy one here at the Society. Here's what's coming up!

Starting things off on Monday evening, 5 October, is a public author talk. Beginning at 6:00PM, author Andrea Wulf will discuss her new book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World. Co-sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, this talk is open to the public with a $20 fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members); registration required. A pre-talk reception starts at 5:30PM. Click here to learn about Wulf's talk the following day at the Arboretum.

On Tuesday, 6 October, stop by the Society at 5:15PM for an Early American History seminar. This time, Jane Kamensky of Harvard University presents "Copley's Cato or, The Art of Slavery in the Age of British Liberty," taken from several chapters of her manuscript, Copley: A Life in Color. David L. Waldstreicher of the Graduate Center at CUNY provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Looking for a lunch date on Wednesday, 7 October? Why not pack a lunch and come by the Society at noon for a Brown Bag talk. Cynthia Bouton of Texas A&M University discusses her book project with this talk titled "Subsistence, Society, Commerce, and Culture in the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution." This talk is free and open to the public. 

Then, on Thursday, 7 October, we have seminar number two for the week, this time from the History of Women and Gender series. "Capitalism, Carceral Culture, and the Domestication of Working Women in the Early American City" is presented by Jen Manion of Connecticut College, with Cornelia Dayton of UConn providing comment. The talk will begin at 5:30PM and is taking place at the Schlesinger Library. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

And on Friday, 8 October, there is a gallery talk focused on our main exhibition, Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection. Stop by at 2:00PM on Friday for "Terra Firma: Too Big to Show." In this talk the MHS' Senior Cataloger, Mary Yacovone, will provide an up-close look at atlases that didn't make it into the exhibition. This talk is free and open to the public. 

Finally, on Saturday, 9 October, come in at 10:00AM for "The History and Collections of the MHS," a 90-minute docent-led talk that explores the public spaces in the building at 1154 Boylston Street and passes on information about the history, holdings, art, and architecture at the MHS. This tour is free and open to the public. Reservations are not necessary for individuals and small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Art Curator Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

Remember to keep your eye on our online calendar for updates on programs, and to read about our current exhibitions!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 4 October, 2015, 12:00 AM

Prospect Hill Tower and the Grand Union Flag

One day when wandering through Somerville, my boyfriend, a recent transplant to Cambridge, noticed what looked like a castle tower in the distance. He asked me about it, and rather than just find the answer online, we decided to have an adventure and discover in person what this tower was all about. It turns out that there is not a secret castle in Somerville, rather it is the Prospect Hill Tower, built in 1903 to commemorate the first flying of the Grand Union Flag on that same hill 1 January 1776.



As someone who is a fan of early Massachusetts history, I was surprised that I did not know about this tower and even more surprised that the first flag representing the United States had looked as if it had a Union Jack quartered on it. The next day I decide to search our collections here at MHS to see what materials we held about the Prospect Hill Tower and the first flying of the Grand Union Flag.



We do hold a number of secondary sources about both Prospect Hill and the flag flying, ranging from published historic guides of Somerville to sheet music composed about the first flag flying. The sheet music, pictured below, was printed in 1862 and while it is about the first raising of the flag in 1776, you will notice that the soldier pictured on the cover is dressed in a Civil War uniform, with tents in the background. Prospect Hill was used during the Civil War as a training camp. Most of our materials regarding the flag and Prospect Hill are from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, which was about the time the tower was erected.



One of these sources is a bound scrapbook, created by Alfred Morton Cutler in 1921. In it, he pasted clippings of articles he had written for newspapers, such as the Cambridge Tribune, between 1918 and 1921. A number of the clippings were Letters to the Editor, in response to articles on the location and flag, with Cutler writing in to correct errors. All the articles go into great detail about not only the location of the first flag on Prospect Hill but also the type of flag. Cutler describes the first American flag as having “thirteen stripes, and containing in the field the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.” At the end of the scrapbook is a clipping from a letter to the editor from William E. Wall: “An attempt is being made by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library to rob our city of Somerville of the honor which it has held so long, viz., that on January 1, 1776, on Prospect Hill (then a part of Charlestown) the flag of the United Colonies ‘first flung defiance to an enemy.’” Mr. Wall goes on to encourage readers to read closely Mr. Cutler’s “answer to assertions of the Cambridge librarian.” Unfortunately the letter written by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library was not included in the scrapbook, though this was the apparent conflict which prompted Cutler to correct the narrative.



Perhaps realizing that a book would have a wider audience than a newspaper, Cutler re-works many of his articles and letters into a short book titled The Continental “Great Union” Flag which was published in 1929. Similar to his letters to the editor, which contained short citations, Cutler goes to great lengths to prove the validity of his claims by citing in detail his various sources, which I am sure would lead to more delightful discoveries if a researcher ever chose to track them down.


Stop by and visit the library to help answer your own early Massachusetts or local town history questions! Though you can find answers to many questions online, it is more interesting (and fun!) to see how scholars thought about those same questions many years ago. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 3 October, 2015, 2:29 PM

This Week @ MHS

As October begins so too does our heavy programming season. Strap in and see what's on tap this week at the Society!

On Tuesday, 29 September, join us for our first Immigration and Urban History seminar of the season. Beginning at 5:15PM, Susan Eckstein of Boston University presents "Cuban Immigration and Exceptionalism: The Long Cold War." In this project, Eckstein focuses on the complex roots of expanded benefits extended to Cuban refugee and immigrants over those from other Communist regimes, and the likely reform in Cuban immigraiton policy. Christine Thurlow Brenner of Univeristy of Massachusetts - Boston provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. Note that this session only will begin with a light supper at 5:15PM, and the program will follow at 6:00PM. 

Then, on Wednesday, 30 September, stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk with Gregg Lint, Series Editor for the Papers of John Adams: "Forty Years of Living with John Adams." This talk is about the life and times of a young editor who grew old reading the mail of a man who always had something to say on almost every conceivable subject, and kept everything. This talk is free and open to the public. 

Also on Wednesday is a special film screening at the Society. Co-sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, "Wilderness in America: A History of America & the Land From Conquest to Conservation," looks at the legacy of conservation in America, unmatched anywhere else in the world. The film tells the story of four centuires of American history and the changing view of the land by leaders, writers, artists, photographers, teachers, and organizations, and the resulting environmental legislation of the last half-century. Registration is required at no cost. A reception begins at 5:30PM and the screening begins at 6:00PM.

On Thursday, 1 October, there is a special MHS Fellows and Members event for the unveiling of the Society's next exhibition. "Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection Preview Reception" is a chance for our Members and Fellows to get a first peek at the upcoming public exhibition, Terra Firma. Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey will provide remarks at 6:00PM while the reception and preview will begin at 6:30PM. 

And on Friday, 2 October, the Society opens two new exhibits to the public. First is the aforementioned "Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection." This exhibit celebrates the beginning of one of the most diverse and interesting collections here at the MHS as we approach our 225th year. Also opening on Friday is "'Always Your Friend': Letters from Theodore Roosevelt to Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884-1918." This exhibit highlights selections from a remarkable collection of letters from the extensive correspondence between these two friends and their spouses. Both of these exhibitions are open to the public, free of charge, until 9 January 2016. Galleries are open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.

Rounding out the week, on Saturday, 3 October, the Society is hosting a teacher workshop and a free tour. "Painless: A Survival Guide to the (Dreaded) History Project" uses the broad themes of "Exploration, Encounters, and Exchange in History" as a springboard to dive into the research process and discover how to use primary sources to uncover the nineteenth-century global adventures of Massachusetts men and women. The program is open to students, teachers, librarians, and archivists, and begins at 9:00AM. There is a fee of $10 (free for students and teachers accompanied by students) and registration is required; please RSVP. To register, or for more information, contact the education department at or 617-646-0557.

Finally, at 10:00AM on Saturday, 3 October, is the return of our free tour. The History and Collections of the MHS is 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces at the Society, touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Society. The tour is open to the public with no need for reservations for small groups or individuals. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 12:00 AM

An American Woman in Egypt, 1914-1915: At the Cataract Hotel, Asswan

Today we rejoin our anonymous female diarist as she journeys down the Nile in the winter of 1914-1915. You can read previous installments of this series here (introduction), here (Cairo to Aysut), here (Aysut to Asswan), here (Asswan to Abu Simbel), and here (Wadi Halfa to Asswan).



Image from Cook’s Handbook for Egypt and Egyptian Sudan (1911), p. 723.


Having returned to Asswan and checked into the Cataract Hotel -- a luxury hotel for foreign travelers -- our anonymous diarist settles into a daily routine in the days before the Christian holidays. No longer constantly moving from location to location, our diarist’s daily routines still revolve around sightseeing, shopping, and socializing with fellow travelers.


Dec. 16. A.M. Went to bazar; bought [kimono?] & Miss. M. a blue stone. Also got post-cards. P.M. took a walk up on the hills of the desert beyond hotel & got fine view of the first cataract. Could see to the dam. Got back for sunset & watched it from terrace. Talking with the Brown’s [sic]. Wrote before dinner.

Dec. 17. A.M.Went to bazar again; bought some beads, cards, etc., & saw many pretty things in [illegible word] shop. P.M. had a shampoo, then went over to Hotel Lobby & had tea, but missed the sunset.

Dec. 18 A.M. Went to shops, I bought India scarf. P.M. took a boat and went over to the rock tombs first, then to Convent of St. Simeon & sailed about a little after-wards, getting back at 6.15.

Dec. 19. Took donkeys & rode out to granite quarries on the desert to see statue of Ramses laying in the sand. A 2 hour trip. P.M. Did some writing then at 4 we went out & walked up on the hill by the fort to see sunset. Wrote before dinner.

Dec. 20. Went to bazar for last time & bought some more charms & a few little things. P.M. tried to walk out along the road to Hotel [illegible] Palace but came to end of it & had to turn around. Sat on a seat in the Public Gardens & watched the sunset. In evening there was a small dance.


A contemporary description of the Monastery of St. Simeon, written for a tourist population, can be found in the 1911 Cook’s travel guide to Egypt:


On the western bank of the Nile, at about the same height as the southern point of the Island of Elephantine, begins the valley which leads to the monastery called after the name of Saint Simon, or Simeon. It is a large, strong building, half monastery, half fortress, and is said to have been abandoned by the monks in the thirteenth century, but the statement lacks confirmation; architecturally it is of very considerable interest. It was wholly surrounded by a wall from about 19 to 23 feet high, the lower part, which was sunk in the rock, being built of stone, and the upper part of mud brick; within this wall lay all the monastery buildings. (730)


You can read the full description in Cook’s Handbook for Egypt and the Egyptian Sudan (1911)   online at The Internet Archive.

In our next installment, we will get a glimpse of how our traveler celebrated Christmas far from home.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 September, 2015, 12:00 AM

older posts