Bringing Willa Home: A Child Displaced by Civil War
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
I’ve written a few times here at the Beehive about manuscripts from the Fay-Mixter family papers, and I’d like to dive into that collection again this week. I was intrigued by four letters from December 1861, so I dug a little deeper and uncovered the story of a family separated by war and a Southern child taken in by Northern friends.
The four letters were written by Edwin Parsons to Joseph Story Fay. Fay, originally from Cambridge, Mass., moved to Savannah, Ga. in 1838 and became a prosperous cotton merchant. He was a slave-owner, but opposed secession, and before the Civil War broke out he returned to his home state of Massachusetts. When these letters were written he lived in Boston with his wife, their three children, and a child unrelated to them, the young daughter of a Mr. Sims.
This passage in Parsons’ first letter to Fay, dated 10 December 1861, was the first thing that caught my eye: “I will advise you in time so that you can send Mr Sims little daughter on.” Parsons continued:
It seems to me however to be a heartless piece of business on Sims part to send for her in such times. With her mother dead & father in Fort Pulaski where he may soon reap the folly of his disloyalty, it will be a sad day for the little girl to exchange the kind care of Mrs Fay, for such a home as awaits her in Georgia.
Fort Pulaski was the vital clue. Among the soldiers stationed at this Savannah garrison in December 1861 was one Capt. (later Col.) Frederick William Sims of the 1st Georgia Infantry. Other details of his biography lined up: his wife Catherine (Sullivan) Sims had died in 1858, followed by one of their two children in 1859, leaving Sims and his nine-year-old daughter Willa. Willa must have been taken in by the Fays in Boston while her father fought for the Confederacy—the disloyalty Parsons alluded to.
Sims wanted his daughter brought back to the South, presumably to live with extended family while he finished out his military service. But Parsons, who apparently acted as a kind of agent for Sims, thought it was a terrible idea. Savannah was like a ghost town after the Battle of Port Royal, and many felt the war would continue for some time. And the possibility of “some hard fighting” in Kentucky after its admission to the Confederacy would make travel difficult, if not impossible. However, on 26 December 1861, when Parsons wrote his fourth and last letter on the subject, the matter was still unresolved.
The last piece of the puzzle was a letter I’d originally passed over, not recognizing the signature. On 14 November 1861, Frederick W. Sims scrawled this short note to Joseph Story Fay on fragile onion-skin paper:
The bearer of this note Mr Briggs will bring Willa home with him. Will you add one more to the many favors already vouchsafed me by fitting her out for the journey. Mr B. has funds[?] to bring her out.
As this may be the last communication which will pass for some time between us I beg you to accept my heartfelt thanks for the Kindness of yourself and Mrs Fay and believe me when I wish you a long life and prosperity.
Fort Pulaski was captured by Union forces in April 1862, and Sims became a POW, later paroled. After the war, he worked as a merchant and insurance executive in Savannah and served as one of the city’s alderman from 1867-1869. He had at least six more children with his second wife, Sarah (Munroe) Sims, but most of them died young. According to newspapers, in 1875, suffering under severe financial difficulties, Sims committed suicide with a morphine overdose. The coroner’s report lists the belongings he left behind: $20.90 in coin, a gold watch and chain, clothing, and a revolver.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out what happened to Willa after 1861. No other papers in the Fay-Mixter collection refer to her. The obituary of Sarah (Munroe) Sims, who died in 1904, identifies only two surviving children, Emily and Elizabeth.
| Published: Wednesday, 2 November, 2016, 12:00 AM
Happy Halloween, 1874: Sketches Here and There
By Rakashi Chand, Reader Services
I love Halloween, so when I saw these lovely India ink sketches in our Graphics collection I was thrilled! Sketches Here and There by Franklin B. Gardner portray the fun and frolic of Halloween almost 150 years ago. Amazingly, this is exactly what I had hoped and envisioned Halloween would have been like in the past; almost a ‘Dicken’s-like’ visual representation of what could be ‘A Halloween story’. Young people frolicking and enjoying a lovely morning in a cornfield followed by festive evening party, where guests clad in costumes have gathered to celebrate.
Although Halloween was celebrated elsewhere in various ways, modern Halloween is a distinctly American capstone holiday, whose traditions and celebration have permeated throughout the rest of the world. These images portray the holiday as a joyous occasion, celebrating autumn, the most beautiful season in New England. And what could be more idyllic than Halloween in the corn fields of New England in 1874?
In the Cornfield, on the Morning of Halloween
In the Cornfield, on the Morning of Halloween, detail.
As the Halloween season is upon us, these visions of Halloween past are a delight to examine. The food being laid out on the dining table during the gathering signifies that perhaps the celebration of Halloween involved a gathering or a feast among friends and family. The holiday has evolved over the years in such a way that we no longer enjoy the gathering and dinning that were once a part of Halloween celebrations. Modern Halloween celebrations puts much emphasis on ‘trick-o-treating’ and candy, so perhaps it is time to bring back the tradition of a gathering with friends and family. Let’s celebrate the season and enjoy the beauty of autumn days, and then feast on Halloween night! [Homemade costumes optional.]
These beautiful sketches were done by amateur artist Franklin B. Gardner and given to the MHS in 1969 by Hermann Warner Williams, Jr. The collection consists of 16 pen and ink sketches and an illustrated title page. The subjects of the sketches are various social scenes, customs and activities and pastimes from the Boston area. We hope to be able to share each of these fabulous sketches with you in forthcoming blog posts.
Halloween in America
To quote Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History (Reaktion Books, 2012), how did Halloween go from being “An Autumnal party for adults” to “a costumed begging ritual for children”? The now heavily commercialized holiday has been exported from America to every part of the globe. Halloween has a very long and complex history, drawing on the traditions and customs of many cultures, a true amalgamation, which continues to evolve to this day.
Halloween is associated with death, although our relationship with and perception of death has changed along with the traditions of the holiday; thanks to advances in modern medicine, death is marginalized, which creates a fear of the unknown. Halloween has become a day when society indulges in fear. Halloween was a holiday for mischief, especially for young boys, who enjoyed playing pranks through the night. Costumes were also a part of Halloween as exemplified by the ‘Hallowe’en’ sketch. But the biggest change in Halloween is the disappearance of the gathering and dinning, especially among adults. It was once a celebration of the season, when both the food and the theme of the party revolved around the bountiful fall harvest, with an emphasis on pumpkins and apples. It was not until after WWII that candy and Trick-or-Treating became a part of Halloween, indeed prior to that even candy manufacturers did not associate candy with Halloween. It was not long before Trick-or-Treating and the distribution of candy on Halloween night became mandatory customs.
More ‘spooky’ Halloween treats from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society:
- The Salem Witch Bureau: A beautiful piece of American joinery that was part of the Salem witchcraft trials, General William H. Sumner described this chest of drawers as "the Witch Bureau, from the middle drawer of which one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem."
- Diary entry of Salem Witchcraft Trial judge Samuel Sewall,19 September 1692.
- Examination of Geo. Burroughs 1692 May 9-11. By Samuel Parris: Proceedings of the examination of Geo[rge] Burroughs and the testimony of bewitched girls, 9-11 May 1692, during the Salem witchcraft trials. Burroughs was found guilty and executed for witchcraft.
- A True Narration of the Strange and Grevous Vexation by the Devil of Seven Persons in Lancashire, and William Somers of Nottingham, by John Darrel: This is the only item in our catalog with the subject "Demoniac possession."
| Published: Monday, 31 October, 2016, 10:13 AM
Margaret Russell’s Diary, October 1916
By Anna J. Clutterbuck Cook, Reader Services
Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:
January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September
October begins balmy, “really warm,” with lovely days on which to walk and drive. Margaret Russell takes several short motoring tours through Massachusetts, Vermont, and upstate New York, and also begins the relocation back to town for the winter. Columbus Day would not become a federal holiday until 1937, but was already celebrated in Boston for Margaret notes the day on October 12th. “Called at Endicotts & Appletons & Miss Rogers,” she observes. With the return to the city comes a more intense schedule of cultural events -- in the last ten days of the month, following the family’s return to town, Margaret attends five concerts which she notes in her diary.
While domestic and social events continue to dominate the chronicle, two political items of note appear in the October entries. On October 9th she writes that a “German submarine off Nantucket sinks nine ships,” one of the first direct mentions of the war now raging in Europe. It was an event that made national news although the Sacramento Union’s account puts the number of ships at six rather than nine. On the 25th of the month, Margaret attends an anti-suffrage (“Anti-S”) meeting -- a reminder that in the early decades of the twentieth century women as well as men were deeply invested on both sides of the fight over the “woman suffrage” question. Massachusetts was home to one of the most active anti-suffrage organizations, the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, founded in 1895. While Margaret does not indicate what specific anti-suffrage meeting she attends it is likely that the meeting was an event organized by this group; their records have been recently digitized by the MHS and can be read online at the link above.
Without further ado, here is Margaret.
* * *
1 Oct. Walked to church & home on State road. Family to dine. Lovely weather.
2 Oct. To town, errands, [illegible], lunch with Marian, to see aunt Emma at Cambridge.
3 Oct. Started at 9.30 for Jaffrey arrived 1.10. The H.G. C’s not till 2. Started for Walpole at 3. Arrived at 4.45. Went to Cottage tea room. Walpole [illegible] full with people.
4 Oct. Started for Woodstock at 9.30. Got there 12.30. Lovely views. Took a short walk. Started at 2.15 via Rutland wonderful views. Arrived at 5.30 at Equinox.
5 Oct. Thursday - Took a walk with Miss A-- to a lake [illegible] of dead [illegible] & 7 live ones. Really warm. Lovely drive to Cambridge N.Y. in P.M. 2 1/2 hours.
6 Oct. Started at 9. Stopped at Williamstown for lunch & walk. On at 1.30 over Mohawk to Greenfield & to Deerfield. Weldon hotel at 4.30. Lovely day.
7 Oct. Saturday. Started at 9.30. Lovely day. Got to Groton at 12.30 and lunched & home by Harvard & Concord. Home at 4.30. Perfect trip, no tire troubles & fine weather.
8 Oct. Sunday - Walked to church & back. Family to dine.
9 Oct. Monday - To town for errands, Mary & lunch with Marian. To see aunt Emma. German submarine off Nantucket sinks nine ships.
10 Oct. Tuesday - Walked over Nahant beach. [illegible] cold & windy. To town for an errand in the P.M.
11 Oct. Wednesday - Went to Rowley in the P.M. to get things at Fairview.
12 Oct. Columbus Day - Walked in A.M. Called at Endicotts & Appletons & Miss Rogers.
13 Oct. Friday - First concert. Perfectly delightful to hear the orchestra. Miss A-- went. Lunched at Somerset with Edith.
14 Oct. Saturday - Met H.G.C. & A. at N. Andover. Cold but lovely.
15 Oct. [no entry made]
16 Oct. Monday - Took Miss A-- to town & said good-by. Back early.
17 Oct. Tuesday - Packing. Bad gale so did not go out in motor.
18 Oct. Wednesday - Lovely clear & cold. Packing.
19 Oct. Thursday - Packing. To Nahant to see F. P. who had gone to town. Drove to Beverly in P.M.
20 Oct. Friday - Unpacking. Had Edith & Eleanor [illegible] & Mrs. Sears to lunch at Chilton & go to concert. Went to see F. Prince to hear about Norman’s death.
21 Oct. Saturday - Passed the day at Norfolk. E. Walcott & Susy B. - also there for lunch. Lovely weather. Concert in the evening.
22 Oct. Sunday - Went to Cathedral. Lunched at Walcotts’s & went to see Sara Jordan on the way home.
23 Oct. Monday - Dentist, Mary, lunch with Marian. Out to Gray Herbarium with specimens.
24 Oct. Tuesday - Walked all the morning for errands. Went to Milton to pay calls & found everybody in.
25 Oct. Wednesday - Anti S- meeting, lunched at Mayflower, dentist, & then to Swampscott to see Edith & the baby.
26 Oct. Thursday - to hospital & then to lunch at Parkman’s with Mrs. James Parker. Lovely warm day.
27 Oct. Friday. Mrs. Ruelkes lunched & went to concert with [sic]. Edith prevented by changes of [illegible].
28 Oct. Lovely warm day. Met the H.G.C’s at Groton for lunch. Home by Harvard. Splendid concert with Gadeski.
29 Oct. Errands & Mary. Lunched at Mrs. Bell’s with an attractive Mrs. Reed from Charleston. To see aunt Emma & the Greenoughs.
30 Oct. Monday - Lunched at Mrs. Bell’s with Mrs. F. Dexter & Mrs. Reed from the South.
31 Oct. Tuesday - Went to [illegible] concert with Mrs. Reed.
* * *
If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.
*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original.
| Published: Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 10:24 AM
Mount Auburn: A Guide through the Nation's First "Rural" Cemetery
By Shelby Wolfe, Reader Services
When friends and family ask me what they should do while visiting the Boston area in the fall, I generally get a strange look after my main recommendation. I tell them to visit Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first landscaped “rural” cemetery in the United States, located between Cambridge and Watertown. It's a beautiful setting year-round, but there's something about this season that brings out the best in Mount Auburn.
I'm tempted to list all of the reasons why I love Mount Auburn, but I'll resist that urge here and tell you what I found out about it while searching our online catalog, ABIGAIL – mainly, that the MHS collections contain a lot more on Mount Auburn than I previously thought. Much of what we have are published materials, including catalogues of proprietors, maps, guides, pocket companions, and anthologies. Then, there are more personal items, such as poems written about Mount Auburn, speeches given at the cemetery, admission tickets, a broadside depicting Mount Auburn "on a delightful day in the Autumn of 1876," and more. Mention of Mount Auburn arises in manuscript collections as well. Search for yourself in ABIGAIL to see what kinds of materials you can find at the MHS connected to this historic cemetery.
For someone whose interest in maps almost rivals her love of cemeteries, I found the fold-out maps in our copies of Dearborn's Guide through Mount Auburn, published by Boston-based engraver Nathaniel S. Dearborn, most interesting. The map in the 1857 edition includes small engravings of the Egyptian Revival entrance and Washington Tower, an observation lookout providing panoramic views of Cambridge, Boston, and beyond. The guide in general is full of useful information about the cemetery as it functioned in 1857. Regulations include prohibition of "discharging firearms in the Cemetery," and a warning of prosecution for anyone "found in possession of flowers or shrubs, within the grounds or before leaving them." On that note, a poem titled "Touch Not the Flowers" by Mrs. C. W. Hunt adds a lyrical emphasis to the rule (and implores visitors with the ominous last line, “Touch not the flowers. They are the dead’s.”). After all, the cemetery was and remains as much a horticultural gem as a place of burial and memorial.
Among the conditions for proprietors, plot owners are informed that any monument, effigy, or inscription determined to be "offensive or improper" is subject to removal by the Trustees. Engraved illustrations present the cemetery-goer with a sampling of must-see monuments of notable men and women (and pets), including a memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, the impressive tomb of William P. Winchester on Narcissus Path, and a marble sculpture depicting the watchdog of Thomas H. Perkins, “an apparent guard to the remains of the family who were his friends.” Beautiful illustrations of the tower and chapel embellish the guide as well.
For the directionally gifted, the guide lists names of foot paths, avenues, and carriage roads, with rather complicated descriptions of how they are situated – “Willow, with two branches, the 1st branch from Poplar Av., northeasterly. to Narcissus Path, then curving easterly for the 2nd branch, to the south, to Larch Avenue.” I think you can see why Dearborn included a map.
Visitors can find up-to-date maps at the cemetery entrance today, so grab one for yourself and venture among the monuments and mausolea. Then, visit the library to see how the cemetery has changed over the years!
Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Mass.)
Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Mass.) Maps
Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Mass.) Pictorial works.
Mount Auburn Cemetery (Cambridge, Mass.) Poetry.
| Published: Friday, 14 October, 2016, 12:00 AM
Letters to Rosamond
By Grace Wagner, Reader Services
For most of her life, Rosamond Gifford was a resident of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. However, she was also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Radcliffe College, attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and was fluent in French.[i] Clearly, her residency in Boston never limited her worldview, or indeed, the array of individuals who corresponded with her. The Rosamond Gifford papers, 1930-1954, is composed of letters primarily dating from 1931-1946. During this time, Gifford received letters from a Harvard college professor advising her on thesis work for Radcliffe College, former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls, and friends who became soldiers and Red Cross nurses during World War II. Rosamond herself wrote to her family from France while touring abroad and studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. I have decided to highlight some of this correspondence for my blog post this week.
The first of these comes from George L. Lincoln, a professor who worked in the Department of Languages and Literature at Harvard. The letter is dated November 3, 1931, when Rosamond was an undergraduate in her junior year at Radcliffe College. The letter is brief, consisting primarily of several book recommendations for Rosamond’s thesis about French religious history, including The Holiness of Pascal by H.F. Stewart, but there is a note at the end that reads: “It seems to me that this thesis – if favorably commented upon by C.H.C.W. – might well be the basis for your HONOR Thesis next year.” This is an interesting comment, notable in that Lincoln later serves as an academic advisor for Gifford in letters sent between 1931 and 1933, before Radcliffe College and Harvard merged their classrooms, which would not happen until over ten years later.[ii] For Radcliffe women, interaction with Harvard faculty was often conducted through different channels, whether this was separate classes taught later at night, or corresponding with professors about their academic work through postal mail. Despite these interactions, female undergraduate and graduate students would receive degrees only through Radcliffe at this time.
Radcliffe was not the only women’s school where Rosamond studied. The Gifford collection also includes a ‘Round Robin’ correspondence between Rosamond and former classmates from the Waltham School for Girls (the list of names includes Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, Vi Campbell, Rosalie Norris, Janet Lewis, and Marion Chick). It began on January 22, 1940 with a letter from the organizer and ringleader of this endeavor, Eleanor “Batesy” Bates, who opens her letter with a cheery, ““Dear Round Robinites” and encloses her hopes that 1940 will bring forth a “new and rejuvenated Waltham Round Robin.” In this set of correspondence, Rosamond and her classmates discuss their lives with a refreshing degree of frankness. The letters include inexplicable nicknames and private jokes, slang, political talk, gossip about other classmates, and discussion of professional careers (writing, welfare work, teaching, and librarianship among them). I have included some favorite excerpts below:
“Oh, yes, I saw Gone With the Wind in New York two weeks ago, and liked it so much I sat through it a second time – ten hours in the movie before I left, but I had brought sandwiches with me, and went out during intermission.” – Eleanor “Batesy” Bates
“I do not get around much as my time is so taken up with writing and study, to say nothing of my son, husband and housework.” – Vi Campbell.
“Will be awfully glad to see you all if we decide to visit Waltham this year en masse so do let me know the place. It would be fun to have a cigarette in North Hall, instead of behind the gym just once.” – Janet Lewis
After World War II, there aren’t many more letters between Rosamond and her various correspondents, but Rosamond continued to live at 340 Commonwealth Ave. until her death in 1997. The Rosamond Gifford collection was a delight and a surprise to stumble across and have the opportunity to explore. Although I have shared words from Rosamond’s various correspondents, I would like to end this post with an excerpt from a letter written by Rosamond herself, dated July 16, 1936, while she was traveling abroad on an Anne Radcliffe fellowship for her graduate studies in France:[iii]
We arrived here contrary to your expectations on time, July 13, and depart the twentieth for a dozen days mad scramble through Normandie and Bretagne…From here we went to Ajaccio, one of the most charming cities I ever was in. The atmosphere exhales Napoleon and the house where he was born is most satisfactory. It is located on a little square with a garden, and the interior retains for the most part the original decoration of delicate eighteenth century designs. The main square is lined with palms and slopes down to the harbor which is surrounded by more red mountains – which were glowing in the evening light as we sailed away. I loved Corsica, best of the whole trip.”
She signs the letter, “Ever and ever so much love, Tibbles.”
[i] “Rosamond Gifford, 87, Philanthropist, taught French.” The Boston Sunday Globe, July 20, 1997.
[ii] Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Yards and gates: Gender in Harvard and Radcliffe history. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, 216. Radcliffe would not officially merge with Harvard until 1977.
[iii] “Radcliffe Gives 42 Fellowships.” Daily Boston Globe, May 12, 1935.
| Published: Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 12:41 PM