The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 30

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Feb. 2d, 1864

The President has just ordered out 500,000 men.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 14 February, 2014, 8:00 AM

Our Monuments Man

The release of the new George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, recalls a fascinating talk given at the Historical Society in December 1980, and published as "Remembrance of Things Past: The Protection and Preservation of Monuments, Works of Art, Libraries, and Archives during and after World War II" (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. 92, p.84-99). Our speaker was Mason Hammond, the Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. Professor Hammond, by then well into his seventies, was an enthusiastic member of the MHS (the man that the Adams Papers editors and other staff members turned to when a difficult Greek or Latin passage appeared in a manuscript), but until that day his fellow members probably saw him as a stereotypically tweedy academic historian. While his lecture was an overview of the quietly heroic effort of American and British curators, conservators, and art historians to save cultural treasures in wartime Europe, just enough of former Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Hammond’s own experiences enlivened his narrative to give his audience an inkling of the great adventure that he had participated in almost forty years before, and the remarkable role that he played as the first—and for a time the only—"Monuments Man." 

In his MHS talk, Mason Hammond described his path to a key role in the Allied preservation effort first in Sicily and Italy, and later in Northern Europe as almost accidental. In 1943, the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York was appointed the first Fine Arts and Monuments Officer of the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, but he was too fat to pass his physical, so Hammond, an intelligence officer at the Pentagon though not an art historian, was sent to North Africa in his place. Here Hammond was too diffident about his qualifications. He already had a lustrous career as a student and teacher at Harvard; had continued his studies of ancient art and archaeology at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar; and spent three years teaching at the American Academy in Rome.  In Sicily and then on the Italian mainland, he developed the pattern for the rescue work that followed. Inadvertently, he also may have given the "Monuments Men" their name. His Boston accent proved so challenging for his British colleagues (who heard him say "fine arts and monuments" as "finance and monuments") that for the sake of clarity, they reversed the order of words in the title of his section to "Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives"—and hence the "Monuments" rather than the "Fine Arts" (or "Finance") Men.

Mason Hammond's role in the Second World War is not unknown. He appears in recent popular histories by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2009), and Saving Italy; The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis (2013). If his own narrative is more measured than the breathless treasure hunt described in both books and the new film, it places the work of the Monuments Men in a larger context.

What would Mason Hammond have made of the new Monuments Men movie? We cannot really say, but in his talk he described the work of the monuments officers mostly in terms of architectural preservation and the restoration of museum and archival collections within their countries of origin, rather than the focus of the film—the hunt for art treasures looted from private collections in countries occupied by the Nazis. In fact, Hammond was extraordinarily fair minded in assigning responsibility for the accidental or deliberate destruction of architectural monuments and buildings, as well as the contents of museums and libraries. He thought that what he believed to be the worst cultural loss of the war, the destruction of the bulk of the collections of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, probably had been an accident rather than the result of Nazi malevolence or Russian revenge. 

As a student of ancient history, Hammond probably was about the only person who could find a silver lining in the controversial Allied bombing of the Monastery of Monte Casino in Italy early in 1944 (this event is shown as leading to the creation of the Monuments Men in the new film, although Hammond had been in the field for almost nine months when the attack took place). As he noted, the Germans had removed the library of the Monastery to the Vatican before it was attacked. He thought the bombardment that followed had stripped away modern accretions to St. Benedict's original structure, allowing its restoration in "a more suitable Romanesque style."

Ironically, at the war's end, Hammond found himself caught up in what appeared to be American-sponsored looting. He was serving in Berlin, the custodian of a bank vault filled with boxes labeled "Rembrandt" and "Rubens" that had been rescued from a phosphate mine in Thuringia. All the Monuments Men in Germany, regardless of rank (and by then Hammond was a senior officer in the detachment), signed a "most unmilitary" protest of a plan to remove works of art from Germany to the United Sates—a plan that the Monuments Men found too closely resembled the looting of cultural treasures by the Germans. While art works came to the United States and were stored at the National Gallery, in due course they were returned to Germany.

There is some presumption in claiming one of Harvard's most faithful alumni and faculty members as the Society's own "Monuments Man," but Mason Hammond was an active member of the MHS for forty-four years, regularly attending MHS events until not long before his death in 2002, at the age of ninety-nine.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

On Tuesday, 11 February, join us at 5:15PM for an Environmental History seminar as Brian McCammack of Williams College presents "'A tacit proclamation of achievement by the Race': Landscapes Built With African American Civilian Conservation Corps Labor in the Rural Midwest." This paper seeks to show not only how the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps changed rural landscapes, but how those landscapes often changed them as well. McCammack explores the understudied implications of tens of thousands of young African American men in unexpected places during the Depression years: the forests and fields of the rural North. Neil Maher, NJIT --Rutgers University Newark Federated History Department, provides the comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.

The next day, Wednesday, 12 February, come by at 5:30PM for Created Equal: The Loving Story, a special film screening and discussion. Mildred and Richard Loving knew it was technically illegal for them to live as a married couple in Virginia because she was of African American and Native American descent and he was white. The Loving Story, nominated for an Emmy in 2013, brings to life the Lovings’ marriage and the legal battle that followed. Discussion will be facilitated by Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky. Registration is required at no cost for this event. To Reserve: Click here to register online or call  the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

And on Thursday, 13 February, is the next installment of the History of Women and Gender seminar series. Gloria Whiting of Harvard University and commenter Barbara Krauthamer of UMass-Amherst present "'How can the wife submit?' African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England." This paper discusses various ways in which the everyday realities of slavery shaped gender relations in Afro-New England families. While the structure of slave families in the region was unusually matriarchal, these families nonetheless exhibited a number of patriarchal tendencies. Enslaved African families in New England therefore complicate the assumption of much scholarship that the structure of slave families defined their normative values. This seminar is free and open to the public; RSVP required. Talk begins at 5:30PM. Please note that this seminar is held at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University.

Please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 17 February, in observance of President's Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 18 February.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 9 February, 2014, 12:00 PM

The McKay Stitcher: The Machine That Revolutionized Footwear Production

On 7 February 1870, Henry H. Warden, of the Russell & Company trade firm in Shanghai, wrote to colleague John Cunningham. Cunningham served as an agent in Boston for the Walsh, Hall & Company of Nagasaki in the tea trade. In this particular letter, Warden replied to an inquiry  Cunningham had made concerning a potential shoe business in China.

"Thanks for yours of Nov 30 -
As to the McKay Machine. If it
is capable of turning out 4 @ 5000
shoes a day (those are your figures)
I should say it might be run
here to advantage for a week,
the Leather coming with it, and
supply China and the regions
round about for a year, I
fancy it is only adapted to making
foreign shoes. E. C. will be able
to give you a better opinion
than I can - He will be able
also to say whether you are
likely to find anything here
worth your while. I did not
forget to speak to him about
it-"

What is the McKay machine that Henry Warden references in this letter from John Cunningham papers?

The McKay stitcher was a sewing machine created by inventor Lyman Reed Blake and improved by businessman and self-educated engineer Gordon McKay. Prior to the introduction of this stitcher, shoes were hand stitched in a time-consuming and piecemeal manner. The machine revolutionized the speed of footwear production by machine sewing the uppers to the soles. 

In 1858, Lyman Reed Blake initially invented an interesting, but not entirely functional, sewing machine. Foreseeing a future in shoe machinery, Gordon McKay bought the patent from Lyman Reed Blake in 1858 for an immediate $8,000. An agreement was reached that Lyman Reed Blake would receive a $72,000 share of future profits. The entrepreneurial engineer for whom the machine is named then improved upon the design until submitting an enhanced patent in 1862. The McKay machine produced finished shoes far faster than hand stitching; it is often credited with giving the North a material edge during the Civil War while the Confederates went without proper footwear.

After the war, having found his market in shoe machinery, Gordon McKay made all moves to retain his profits. In 1866, he designed a leasing system for the McKay machinery which demanded royalties for each pair of shoes made. The low cost of leasing the machines allowed manufacturers to engage in the production of shoes. This production in turn furthered Gordon McKay's business as he secured a profit for each pair made by his machines.

In his letter, Warden refers Cunningham to the expertise of his brother, Edward Cunningham (“E. C.”), a senior partner of the Russell & Company trade firm in Hong Kong. The John Cunningham papers at the Society do not contain information about further footwear business plans in China or correspondence between the brothers about the McKay stitcher. However, it is still a true mark of global prowess that Henry H. Warden and John Cunningham discussed the introduction of the McKay machine to Asian markets less than a decade after its invention.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 February, 2014, 1:22 PM

"His intrepidity had well nigh been fatal to him": Dr. John Jeffries

This past Sunday we may have celebrated the day of our national weather-groundhog with Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of another six weeks of winter, but today we celebrate National Weatherperson's Day as recognized by the National Weather Service. This date, 5 February, was chosen for to celebrate the anniversary of the 1745 birth of Dr. John Jeffries, a Bostonian who is credited as one of the nation's first weathermen, flying a hot air balloon above the city of London to take scientific weather measurements.

This fascinating individual has an equally intriguing connection with the Adams family. A Boston physician, Dr. Jeffries first crossed paths with John Adams during the Boston Massacre Trials of 1770 as a witness testifying for the defense. As the surgeon attending to Patrick Carr, one of the townspeople shot by the soldiers, Jeffries had asked Carr questions about what had happened, and Jeffries relayed to the jury what he had learned. Carr, who died of his wounds ten days later, supported the defense account that the mob pelted the soldiers with more than just snowballs and helped instigate the confrontation. Jeffries became a loyalist as the Revolution broke out and eventually left Boston, becoming a doctor in the British Army first in Nova Scotia and later set up his practice in London.

It was in Europe that that Dr. Jeffries and the Adamses crossed paths once again. While dining with Benjamin Franklin in Paris on February 14, 1785, John Quincy Adams met Dr. Jeffries who described to the guests his voyage by balloon from Dover, England, to Calais, France, the first to cross the English Channel by air. John Quincy recorded in his diary, "Dined at Dr. Franklin’s with a great deal of Company, among the rest Dr. Jeffries who lately cross'd with Mr. Blanchard, from Dover to Calais. He is a small man: has not an agreeable address, but seems to be very sensible: he related his voyage: in which his intrepidity had well nigh been fatal to him: the balloon descended he says, 3/4 of a mile in 2. minutes: he and Mr. Blanchard were both of them obliged to throw almost all their cloaths in the water. At one time they were not more than 20 yards above the surface."

Several months later when John Adams became the first American Minister to Great Britain and moved to London, Dr. Jeffries became the family physician. Abigail said of him in a letter to her sister, "Dr Jeffries is our family Physician, and is really an amiable benevolent Man tho formerly he took a different side in politicks." In addition to treating the regular ailments of the family, Dr. Jeffries was present for the birth of John and Abigail's first grandchild when their daughter Nabby gave birth to William Steuben Smith in April 1787.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. John Jeffries, his family papers are available at the MHS.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 5 February, 2014, 8:00 AM

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