A Giant Problem at the MHS

by Brandon McGrath-Neely, Library Assistant

The holdings of the MHS often tell the authentic stories of real figures such as Revolutionary heroes, 18th century women laborers, and helmet-wearing air raid survivors. A smaller group of materials deal with more mysterious subjects, like strange voices calling from the waters of Boston in 1634. In these cases, it can be difficult to know what really happened, what was misunderstood, and what was invented. A recent question of these less tangible materials has forced the staff to admit: The MHS has a giant problem.

I should clarify – the problem isn’t giant in scale. The problem is about Giants. Several materials describe these tall, powerful creatures of myth and legend, but they can’t agree on what Giants are like! A brief survey of the Giants of MHS will show how conflicted the archival voices are on this subject.

For some authors, Giants are gargantuan monsters of violence and treachery. Pulling from older British and Biblical mythology, these Giants are the biggest of bullies. An 1817 tale describes Woglog the Giant, who kidnaps children who stay outside past sunset and tries to crack them “as one does a walnut.” In this case, the Giant was used to teach children a lesson: “Little boys should never loiter about in the fields nor even in the streets after dark. […] So must all other little boys and girls, or nobody will love them.”[1] An 1809 retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” likewise depicts Giants as murderous evildoers who chant, “Fe, fa, fan, I smell the blood of an Englishman; If he be alive, or if he be dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”[2] An 1882 version of the same tale complicates the story – in this telling, the Giant killed Jack’s father and then dies trying to kill Jack.[3]

Printed image of a giant standing next to a human woman.
The History of Mother Twaddle and the Marvellous Atchievements of Her Son Jack, 17757 Shaw/Shoemaker Fiche

Yet both earlier and later texts feature Giants who are far more caring and gentle. In Jonathan Swift’s 1726 classic political satire, Gulliver’s Travels, Lemuel Gulliver meets a society of Giants after washing up on the island of Brobdingnag. Though they aren’t perfect, these Giants live in a rather simple, peaceful society. The King of the Brobdingnagians disdains politics and prefers agriculture: “[W]hoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”[4] The men decide that the Giants must be from an ancient civilization of humanity, and that as humans became more obsessed with political maneuvering and deadly technology, they shrank in size.

130 years later, the author Christopher Pearse Cranch also depicted Giants as heartfelt, tender creatures. In The Last of the Huggermuggers, A Giant Story, the protagonist also washes up on an island inhabited by a pair of Giants, Mr. and Mrs. Huggermugger. Though he initially fears them, he quickly discovers that they are gentle, parental figures who love shellfish and their home: “The Huggermuggers were not wicked and blood-thirsty. How different from the monsters one reads about in children’s books!”[5] However, a dastardly dwarf (larger than humans, but smaller than Giants) arranges their magical death, and these two embodiments of a warm and familial past fade away, never to be seen again.

A giant man smoking a pipe carries a basket full of humans who are tiny in comparison.
Mr. Huggermugger carries a group of humans in a basket. The Last of the Huggermuggers, PS1149.C8 L17

Complicating the matter even further, some authors don’t view Giants as ‘Giants’ at all! In Anne Thackeray’s 1867 retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” the two-headed Giant, Bulcox, is not a towering creature bent on destruction. Instead, it is a married couple in charge of a Victorian-era workhouse, who malnourish and abuse their laborers. Rather than a bone-filled dungeon, the Bulcox’s lair is the unsanitary living quarters: “Truth, naked, alas! covered with dirt and vermin, shuddering with cold, moaning with disease, and heaped and tossed in miserable, uneasy sleep at the bottom of her foul well.” This story’s Giants are not slayed by swords, magic, or axes, but rather by public awareness, the free press, and a clergyman unafraid to help the sick in the hospitals they languish at: ”[A]ll these hundreds of weary years, all these aching limbs, and desolate waifs from stranded homes, this afflicted multitude of past sufferings.”[6]

So what are Giants like, according to the materials in our collection? Well, they’re a lot of things. They’re the reason to stay inside after dark and listen to your parents. They’re the evil in the world, encouraging bravery and heroism to defeat them. They’re embodiments of more simple, peaceful pasts of yesteryear. And they’re social problems, capable of wreaking great destruction under the surface. Like other legendary creatures throughout human history, Giants are imagined and reimagined by communities within distinct contexts. Considering why people in different places, and different times, imagine Giants so differently could reveal much about how those people viewed themselves, the world around them, and their place in it. But that’s much more than can be handled in a blog post—that’s a giant project.

Referenced Works

[1] The History of Tommy Trip, and His Dog Jowler. And of Birds and Beasts. 1817. New Haven: Sidney’s Press. 6-8.

[2] H.A.C. 1809. The History of Mother Twaddle, and the Marvellous Atchievements of Her Son, Jack. Philadelphia: Wm. Charles. 14.

[3] Swinton, William, and George R. Cathcart, eds. 1882. Golden Book of Tales: Holiday Readings in the Legendary Lore of All Nations. New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, and Company.

[4] Swift, Jonathan. 1809. Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey. Part 2, Chapter 7.

[5] Cranch, Christopher Pearse. 1889. The Last of the Huggermuggers: A Giant Story. Boston: Lee & Shepard. 39.

[6] Ritchie, Anne Thackeray. 1868. Jack the Giant Killer. Boston: Loring. 10-29.

The Lincoln Love Letters: Wilma Frances Minor, Ellery Sedgwick & the Greatest Literary Hoax

by Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor

Reality can seem more unbelievable than fiction, as is this tale of the Lincoln love letters. For years there was speculation about a possible romantic interest between Abraham Lincoln and a woman named Ann Rutledge. The evidence was that Ann died suddenly from illness and Lincoln’s first bout with depression soon ensued, however nothing in the historical record linked the two romantically. That changed in 1928, when Wilma Frances Minor presented Ellery Sedgwick, Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, with an opportunity to publish the story of a lifetime… the love affair of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge based on manuscript letters in Minor’s possession. 

Two color photographs side by side of handwritten black ink letters on paper discolored with age.
Two examples of the forgeries from the Ellery Sedgwick Papers.

Minor was a writer and vaudeville actress from California, who was beautiful, charming, and had almost supernatural powers of persuasion. Sedgwick consulted experts and biographers to authenticate the newly discovered letters Minor presented as family heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next, and at first, they received validation. Sedgwick invited Minor to Boston, and she charmed all the editors at America’s most reputable literary magazine. The first of three “Lincoln the Lover” series was published, captivating the nation, and providing Minor with a handsome payment.

The ‘lost’ Lincoln letters swept the country, compelling Lincoln biographers and historians to dig deeper into the newly discovered romantic side of Abe which seemed too good to be true.

The collection included ten letters written by Lincoln, including three to Ann Rutledge and four to John Calhoun, four letters from Ann Rutledge, including two to Lincoln and several pages from the diary of Matilda Cameron, Ann’s cousin. The provenance of the collection was verified through letters written in various hands, from Frederick W. Hirth of Emporia, Kansas, Minor’s great-uncle, and Minor’s mother, Cora DeBoyer. Sedgwick contacted detective J. B. Armstrong to investigate the case under the supervision of Teresa Fitzpatrick of the Atlantic Monthly staff.

After further speculation, biographers who welcomed the newly found cache of manuscripts noticed discrepancies in style and vocabulary uncharacteristic of the author of the Gettysburg Address. The investigation proved that the letters were forgeries, and the whole affair nothing but an elaborate hoax. The strongest objections to the authenticity of the letters came from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Editor of Publications, Worthing C. Ford, who wrote to Sedgwick on 24 November 1928, “Have you gone insane, or have I? You are putting over one of the crudest forgeries I have known…”

Color photograph of a black ink handwritten letter with a header that reads "Massachusetts Historical Society Fenway Boston"
Worthing C. Ford to Ellery Sedgwick, 24 November 1928

Scandal! Were these forgeries? Was it a hoax? How had America’s leading literary magazine fallen so completely for a beautiful scam artist and a wishful story?

Minor and her mother confessed to fabricating the letters on 3 July 1929, but with an interesting explanation: Minor claimed that her mother had psychic powers and the spirits of Ann and Abe had urged her to do it… or else the truth about their love would be lost to time. Minor created such a believable and extensive hoax; it simply sends shivers down an archivist’s spine.

Color photograph of a black ink typed document signed "Teresa S Fitzpatrick" towards the top of the page.
Confession of Wilma Frances Minor and Cora DeBoyer to creating the Abe and Ann hoax, 3 July 1929

“I would die on the gallows that the spirits of Ann and Abe were speaking through my Mother to me, so that my gifts as a writer combined with her gifts as a medium could hand on something worth while to the world.” Page 4 of Wilma Frances Minor’s confession taken by Teresa S. Fitzpatrick on 3 July 1929.

Sedgwick kept the forgeries along with all the correspondence before, during, and after the investigation; including with his staff, with detective Armstrong, with Paul Angle, President of the Lincoln Centennial Association, and many other Lincoln biographers, historians and experts, and finally, with Rumford Press and Little Brown & Co. who were publishing Minor’s book. Also included in the collection is Minor’s book manuscript and the detectives’ reports. The layers of the astonishing affair reveal themselves with each tantalizing page.

Were Minor and DeBoyer simply the vehicle to share a love story that changed the course of American history? Or were Minor and DeBoyer perhaps an incredible team of scam artists who almost succeeded in re-writing history? See for yourself by researching the Ellery Sedgwick Papers housed at the MHS. You can examine the forgeries with your own eyes in the Library at the MHS.

A Day in the Life of an Adams Papers Editor

by Miriam Liebman, Adams Papers

When I go to family events, I often get a confused a look when I tell them I am an editor at the Adams Papers. Once I explain that I work on the papers of Abigail and John Adams and their family, their puzzled looks often go away. But they usually have several questions about what my work includes. I realized that many people may have similar questions about what we do at the Adams Papers project. At the heart of our work is making the papers of John and Abigail Adams and their family accessible to researchers, students, and the public.

I primarily work on the Papers of John Adams, the public papers of John Adams, and Adams Family Correspondence, the family papers. For more about the different series we publish, see here. The work on both series requires the same editorial process, which comprises several tasks including selection, collation, annotation, and production. These tasks vary depending on what stage we are up to in the production of a volume. Now, I am working on collation of Papers of John Adams, volume 24, and annotation for Papers of John Adams, volume 23, so I will provide more details about what those tasks include.

Here’s what a typical day looks like:

7:45–8:30: Prepare for Collation (which includes reviewing handwriting and making sure I requested all the necessary documents)

8:30–8:45: Access the documents needed for the day

8:45–12:00: Collation

Collation is one of my favorite parts of the editorial process. Collation is the tandem reading of documents selected for a volume, and right now we are working on the Papers of John Adams, volume 24. We collate in the morning for three hours, usually three or four days a week. One editor reads the letter aloud, while a second editor checks the existing transcription. We have a first and then second round of collation with two different pairs of editors. You may ask, why do you spend this much time reading documents aloud? Well, this is how we get the transcription of the documents to reflect what the authors of the letters wrote. For example, we read the letters, but also point out when words are capitalized, punctuation marks, and when text is written in the margins of a letter.

Most of the letters I collate were written by Timothy Pickering, John Adams’s secretary of state. (That is about to change however, since we just got up to the part of the volume when John Adams fired Pickering). Pickering’s handwriting is pretty neat (yes cool, but more importantly easier to read), but he does like to superscript (i.e. Mr) a lot. Letters can be just a few lines or in the case of the Elbridge Gerry letter I recently read, 27 pages! It is one of my favorite tasks because it allows you to better understand the people who wrote these letters and their daily interactions.

"Sir,			 Department of State Philadelphia, Monday morning May 12. 1800
I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated last Saturday, stating that “as you perceive a necessity of introducing a change in the administration of the Office of State, you think it proper to make this communication of it to the present Secretary of State, that he may have an opportunity of resigning, if he chooses:” and that “you would wish the day on which his resignation is to take place to be named by himself.”
An excerpt from Timothy Pickering’s letter to John Adams, 12 May 1800. The Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

12–1: Lunch

1–3:30: Annotation Revisions

After lunch, I returned to revising my annotation for the Papers of John Adams, vol. 23. We work on more than one volume at a time. Annotation are all the footnotes in our volume. Our volumes, including the annotation, are available in our digital editions, which you can check out (for free and without a login!) here. I am currently revising the annotation for documents which cover John Adams’s correspondence from July 1798. The main stories are Franco-American relations in the aftermath of the XYZ Affair and the passage of a direct tax law. Some of my revisions included providing more details on a specific topic. For example, I wrote about the Senate rejecting John Adams’s son in law William Stephens Smith for an officer role in the army. I included that Timothy Pickering lobbied some senators to vote against his nomination, but needed to find out which senators voted against him and why Pickering wanted them to vote against William Stephens Smith.

3:30–3:45: Return the documents used during the day

While all my days do not look exactly like this, the next few weeks will include annotation and collation before moving ahead on writing the index for Adams Family Correspondence, volume 16, and production tasks for the volume.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding of the edition is currently provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Newspaper Roundup!

by Maggie Parfitt, Visitor Services Coordinator

Sometimes when we have a quiet afternoon at the MHS I’ll sit and read through our historical newspaper collection. A very historic hobby to keep, and one that turns up a lot of interesting things—like what some of our founding fathers were doing during their non-founding hours. I hope you find this selection of clippings as amusing and interesting as I do!

Paul Revere, silversmith and midnight rider, was also Paul Revere, dentist. Although it seems primarily on the side, as he directed potential patients to meet with him in his Silversmith’s Shop.

A newspaper clipping reading “Artificial-Teeth. Paul Revere, Takes this Method of returning his most sincere Thanks to the Gentlemen and Ladies who have employed him in the care of their Teeth, he would now inform them and all others, who are so unfortunate as to lose their Teeth by accident or otherways, that he still continues the Business of a Dentist, and flatters himself that from the Experience he has had these Two Years, (in which Time he has fixt some Hundreds of Teeth_ that he can fix them as well as an Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London, he fixes them in such a Manner that they are not only an Ornament but of real Use in Speaking and Eating: He cleanses the Teeth and will wait on any Gentleman or Lady at their Lodgings, he may be spoke with at his Shop opposite Dr. Clark’s at the North-End, where the Gold and Silversmith’s Business is carried on in all its Branches."
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 20 August 1770

And Paul Revere, engraver (though this business of his is more widely remembered.)

Newspaper clipping reading: “Just Published, And to be sold by Josiah Flagg, and Paul Revere, in Fifth-Street, at the North End of Boston, A Collection of the best Psalm-Tunes, in two, three, and four Parts, from the most celebrated Authors; fitted to a Measures, and approved of by the best Masters in Boston, New-England. To which are added, Some Hymns and Anthems; the greater Part of them never before Printed in America. Set in Score by Josiah Flagg. Engraved b Paul Revere."
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 21 January 1765

You had more options for tooth care in Boston than just Paul Revere: You could visit Daniel Scott at his medicine store at the (very memorable) Sign of the Leopard, where among other services “all Persons who have the Scurvy in their Teeth, which threatens their removal though sound, may have them cleaned without hurting the Enamel, or in the least degree impairing them, and may be supplied with his DENTIUM CONSERVATOR, which is an excellent Powder, the best adapted for preserving the Teeth and Gums, and preventing them from Aching”

Newspaper advertisement for “Daniel Scott At his Medicine Store the Sign of the Leopard, South End, Boston” The advertisement features a long list of services offered and features a large image of a leopard in the upper left corner.
The Boston Evening-Post, 19 September 1774 (includes supplement)

John Joy joined his colleagues in selling “a fresh Supply of Druggs & Medicines,” promising “Country Practitioners, Apothecarys, etc. may be suppy’d to great Advantage.” I’m interested in the implied distinction of practice between “country” and “city.”

A Newspaper advertisement for John Joy who “Informs the Public, That he has removed to the Shop next Door North of Mr. Gilbert Deblois’s in Cornhill, Boston, Where he has received a large and fresh Supply of Druggs & Medicines, which he will sell Wholesale or Retail, on the best Terms for Cash or Credit. Country Practitioners, Apothecarys, etc. may be supplied to great Advantage. Surgeons instruments, Groceries, and Dyers stuffs, may be had cheap." The Ad also features a large column w/ a lion stirring a kettle on top.
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 26 December 1774

John Hancock, heir to one of the richest merchant families in Boston, inherited his Uncle Thomas Hancock’s business after his death in 1764. In 1765 it seems he was still balancing accounts and “desires those Persons who are still indebted to the Estate of the late Hon. Thomas Hancock, Eqs: deceased, to be speedy in paying their respective Ballances, to prevent Trouble.”

A Newspaper Advertisement which reads “To be sold by John Hancock, at his store No. 4, at the East End of Faneuil Hall, A general Assortment of English and India Goods, also choice Newcastle Coals and Irish Butter, cheap for Cash. Said Hancock desires those Persons who are still indebted to the Estate of the late Hon. Thomas Hancock, Esq: deceased, to be speedy in paying their respective balances, to prevent trouble. N.B. In the Lydia, Capt. Scott, from London came the following packages 1 W No. 1, A Trunk, No. 2, a small Parcel. The Owner, by applying to John Hancock and saying [illegible], may have his goods."
The Boston Evening-Post, 7 January 1765

Even one of Boston’s most prominent merchants was not immune to the backlash against imported British goods. But in 1771 he found it palatable to once again advertise imported goods, while assuring the public that he kept “the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance.”

Newspaper advertisement that reads “John Hancock, Informs the Public, That after the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance, he has received by the Ship Lydia, Captain Scott, An Assortment of Goods, which he will sell by Wholesale, at the very lowest Rates at his store, No. 4, East End of Faneuil Hall Market, where constant Attendance will be given, and the Favours of his Customers duly acknowledged."
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 15 April 1771

John Hancock continued to balance his identity of merchant with that of revolutionary. Advertisements for his Oration given on the anniversary of what we now know as the Boston Massacre can be found in the same paper where he advertised his goods for sale.

A newspaper advertisement that reads “On Wednesday Next, At Eleven o’Clock The Oration delivered by the Hon. John Hancock, Esq; will be Published, And Sold by Edes & Gill in Queen-Street."
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 21 March 1774

John Hancock was not the only one to face social pressure during the non-importation agreement. Women (or “Ladies”) were often appealed to directly, especially regarding the non-consumption of British tea. I still get a kick out of the line “However coolly some of you may now esteem your Husbands” in the 21st century.

A clipping from a newspaper article which reads “Ladies, however coolly some of you may now esteem your husbands, it might be worth your while to consider whether by your abandoning that accursed tea, you will preserve your country and posterity in peace and good order, or expose twenty five thousand of them to spill their blood, in defence of their undoubted Birthright.”
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 29 November 1773

I also greatly enjoy the advertisements for less-remembered fields of business. Ladies (and Gentlemen) may have sent their children to join Peter Curtis at his new Dancing School. And Gentlemen who wished to learn “The Noble Science of DEFENCE commonly called the BACK-SWORD” may join Donald McAlpine in the Day-Time or Evening.

Two newspaper advertisements, one from Peter Curtis who “proposes to open a Dancing-School…Where he will teach Dancing in a most polite Manner. Those who send their Children may depend that Care will be taken of their Education, and that good Order will be observed. In the second advertisement, Donald McAlpine teaches the “The Noble Science of Defence…Where Gentlemen may be instructed at any Hour. He proposes teaching on Evenings, for the Benefit of those whose Business will not permit them to attend in the Day-Time.”
The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 6 May 1771 (includes supplement), The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 11 February 1771

Thanks for joining me on this quick little jaunt through our Harbottle Dorr newspaper collection—there’s way more where that came from! You can browse the collection yourself here.

Further Resources

Rodwin, Nina. 2019. Dentures, Corpses, and Privies, Paul Revere’s Medical Careers. The Revere House Gazette: 136: 1-4.

“John Hancock.” Massachusetts Historical Society.

New Collection Available

by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

I’m very pleased to announce a new collection available for research, the Perry-Clarke additions. I’ve been processing this collection for a while now, and I can honestly tell you I’m a little sorry to be finished with it. It’s been one of the most interesting (and challenging) I’ve worked on here at the MHS.

The collection contains the papers of Unitarian minister, transcendentalist, author, and social reformer James Freeman Clarke, as well as many family members from multiple generations. The “Perry” in the title comes from the collection’s donor, Clarke’s great-granddaughter Alice de Vermandois (Ware) Perry.

Black-and-white photograph of a white man with gray hair, beard, and glasses seated at a desk writing. Below the photograph is the signature “James Freeman Clarke.”
James Freeman Clarke (Photo. #81.151) from Portraits of American Abolitionists

As you can probably tell from the name, these papers consist of additions to the Perry-Clarke collection, which Alice Perry gave to the MHS back in 1979. After that collection was processed and made available to researchers, Perry donated multiple subsequent installments of family papers. These additions posed a number of problems: many of them were completely unorganized and unidentified, and some portions were even covered in active mold.

Unfortunately, because of these problems and the lack of time and staff to address them, most of the additions have been malingering in our backlog. We did arrange, catalog, and make available four boxes of some of the most significant material—all the letters James Freeman Clarke wrote to his wife between 1832 and 1888—but the rest was largely unusable.

Thankfully that’s no longer the case! While it wasn’t possible, at this late date, to incorporate the additions into the primary collection, I’ve processed the additions separately and created links between the two. At 46 boxes, this collection is smaller than the first (64 boxes), but there’s a lot of overlap.

The collection contains ten boxes of family correspondence (the previously cataloged letters from James to Anna are filed here), followed by nine boxes of James’s papers, primarily manuscript and printed copies of his sermons and other writings.

James may be the headliner, but the collection also includes papers of several equally impressive relatives. Among them are his sister Sarah Freeman Clarke, an artist, author, teacher, and philanthropist; his wife Anna (Huidekoper) Clarke and members of the influential Huidekoper family of Meadville, Pennsylvania; his incredibly high-achieving children, Lilian (reformer and translator), Eliot (engineer and mill manager), and Cora (botanist and entomologist); and his daughter-in-law Alice and her family.

In fact, while the additions complement the original donation in many ways, they have even more to offer. Alice was, through her mother, a member of the famous Lowell family of Boston, so about a third of the additions is made up of Lowell family papers that Alice brought along with her when she married Eliot Channing Clarke in 1878.

The Lowell material includes, for example, nearly 30 volumes kept by Alice’s great-aunt Rebecca Amory Lowell during her decades of work as a Sunday School teacher, as well as 21 diaries of another great-aunt, Anna Cabot Lowell, that neatly fill the gap in one of our other collections! An entire box consists almost exclusively of letters written by Alice’s great-great-aunt, another Anna Cabot Lowell, during the Federalist Era.

Processing this collection meant opening a lot of boxes of miscellaneous unidentified loose manuscripts and crumbling volumes and identifying, to the best of my ability, what they were, who wrote them, and where they belonged. I was particularly impressed by how much material I found documenting the accomplishments of women.

I hope and expect the Perry-Clarke additions will get a lot of use by researchers. I know I intend to mine it for many future blog posts. Thanks to Interim President Brenda Lawson for prioritizing the processing of this collection.

Hedge Theaters: Gardens as a Stage

by Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

In 1599, William Shakespeare wrote As You Like It, in which the famous monologue by the character Jacques begins, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” I didn’t expect that line to play in my head as I looked through MHS’s collection of glass lantern slides belonging to Arthur A. Shurcliff. However, that’s what happened when I came across this image (also shown farther below) of a garden theater, or hedge theater, a kind of theater I hadn’t heard of before, and wanted to learn more about.

Two color photographs of black ink printed illustrations side by side. On the left is an aerial view of a garden design with a stage and other items labeled with bushes, trees, and walls. On the right is an image as if standing to the left inside the entryway of the same space as the aerial image. In this one the stage is higher than the ground and there are statues towards the back of it. Both images have a ribbon with "Villa Marlia" on it.
Two views of Lucca, Italy’s, Villa Marlia Garden Theater, unidentified photographer, undated, from the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides.
Two color photographs of two black ink printed illustrations of a garden. On the left is an aerial view with the stage and other items labeled, there are bushes and from this view the intricate grass design can be seen. On the right is a view from just outside the entryway towards the stage, from here the stage area is above the designed grassy area. Both have a ribbon with "Villa Gori" on it.
Two views of the Siena, Italy’s, Villa Gori Garden Theater, unidentified photographer, undated, from the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides.

According to Katrina Grant who wrote Teatri Vi Verzura: Hedge Theatres in Baroque Lucca, hedge theaters were created in 1652 in the Tuscan province of Lucca, Italy. They rose in response to the prevailing theory of Italian gardens at the time, that the visual display, or spectacle, of artfully designed gardens was live theater. Such gardens were a way to show the public your life, your money, your taste, and your style. Most hedge theaters comprised a raised, half circle of grass, with a stone wall or large hedgerow as the backdrop. This “stage” could have other features, such as fountains, archways, statues, seating, or fishponds. The property owners would invite friends and acquaintances to their hedge theaters for performances of poetry, music, excerpts from plays, or lectures on a variety of subjects; however, opera wasn’t offered, for it needed paid singers, which was not the idea behind these garden theaters—nor was there space for an orchestra.

Hedge theaters later became popular in other places, first in France, then in Germany, and finally, in Great Britain. The image below shows a hedge theater in active use. The bottom of the slide notes that “The Kaiser is an interested spectator.” Although the slide itself isn’t dated, “Kaiser” (emperor) was used in Germany from 1871 through 1918, so we can fairly date this photograph to that time frame. What I love about it is how it captures a hedge theater with an audience present and enjoying the performance.

Color photograph of a black and white photograph of an outdoor scene in a garden. There is a raised grassy area to the right with three people in costumes acting out a scene. Behind them are bushes and a long trellis-like fence. To the right are men and women in clothes from the turn of the 20th century (hard to pinpoint a date), some in German military uniform, seated and standing watching the performance. At the bottom is a note that reads "A trellis-work theatre at Mannheim, Germany -- an example of the semi-formal type of garden theatre which was popular in Europe in the seventeenth century. The Kaiser is an interested spectator."
Garden Theater, Mannheim, Germany, unidentified photographer, undated, from the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides.

One thing that Grant noted in her book was the impermanence of hedge theaters: “Such theatres are imitations of permanent structures rendered in impermanent material, and conversely, living performers are frozen in stone or terracotta.” I liked the idea that such theaters were the opposite of traditional theater space, with four walls and a ceiling that have longevity, with generations of actors coming and going. And the impermanence within the design also plays into the current day thought that the Baroque period was one of intense color, decoration, and drama.

With Shakespeare in the Park and other outdoor theatrical performances becoming more popular in the past few decades, perhaps hedge theaters are about to make a related comeback.

Learn more about Arthur A. Shurcliff and the collection of glass lantern slides. Learn more about the current exhibition, Boston Views: Through the Lens of Arthur A. Shurcliff.

The Missing Princes Project: A Research Challenge

by Sally Keil, Secretary, Richard II Society – American Branch, Team leader for The Missing Princes Project in America

In August 2012 the search for the mortal remains of King Richard III, led by Philippa Langley MBE and her “Looking for Richard” project team, came to a successful conclusion when the King’s grave was located under a parking lot in Leicester, England. With this mystery solved, Langley turned her attention to the disappearance of the two sons of King Richard’s elder brother and predecessor, King Edward IV: what happened to the two boys following the coronation of their uncle? The last time they were seen playing on Tower Green was in July 1483. Over the course of that summer they were seen ‘less and less’ until they were no longer seen at all. With no proof whatsoever of their demise, the theory that they were put to death by their uncle calcified and is now taken as fact.

Solving the mystery of the disappearance of the two boys became Langley’s next challenge. She formed The Missing Princes Project (TMPP) and solicited help from researchers around the world to hunt for primary source documents that might offer clues to their whereabouts. To participate in this effort, I formed The Missing Princes Project in America in December 2018. The objective: search the 497 institutions listed in the Directory of Collections in the US and Canada that have Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings. I reached out to the membership of the Richard III Society-American Branch asking for volunteers; thirty-one people raised their hands. Beginning in December 2018 we scoured 497 US-based libraries, archives and special collections looking very specifically for primary source documents dated between 1483 and 1509. With the outbreak of COVID all searching had to be online.

In querying the Massachusetts Historical Society’s digital archives, I was tremendously excited to find the original manuscript of a financial account book from the court of King Henry VII that was dated within our required timeframe. This manuscript was donated to the MHS in 1905 by the estate of Charles Edward French, a Bostonian businessman. I think it’s fun to learn that a Tudor period court record has been sitting right in our own backyard! However, it is written in Latin with medieval script, and is therefore indecipherable to most people who do not have the necessary paleographic skills. With a generous donation of funds from the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society, Langley commissioned Dr. Shelagh Sneddon of York University to transcribe and translate the account book. While it did not hold any clues to our search for the missing boys, it shines a bright light on the finances of King Henry VII and his court. With the kind agreement of Dr. Sneddon, The Missing Princes Project is pleased to donate a copy of the translation to the MHS. This gift enables MHS to provide students, researchers, and the wider online communities direct access to an original Tudor period manuscript.

Two color photographs side by side of two pages with handwritten black ink detailing accounts of a household. The text is elaborate and written in Latin.
Household book, ca. 1500. “An account imposed upon the lands and possessions of Henry VII” of England, dated during his reign (1485-1509). Contains assessments of property and the amounts of expenditures for the royal household.

A challenge to MHS researchers! As noted above, the estate of Mr. Charles Edward French donated this manuscript to MHS back in 1905. He also donated his diaries. In trying to determine from whom he obtained the account book, I came upon an entry in volume six, reel 2, box 2 page 125, written in the spring of 1864 that reads “I mean to study to collect all the valuable books that I can relative to antiquities, so that I may become a learned antiquarian/”. I have been unable to proceed beyond that. A small research challenge perhaps? It would be wonderful to be able to trace the provenance of the account book.

Color photograph of black handwritten ink on a lightly blue-lined page, a red line on the left. The hand is easy to read although the words are crossed out and the ink is a bit blotchy.
Charles Edward French diary, 27 March 1864

The Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society’s Lectures and Entertainment Events in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries

By Dr. Kristof Loockx, Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp

On a Sunday afternoon in 1920, the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society invited Professor Elizabeth F. Fisher (1873-1941) to deliver an illustrated lecture on petroleum at the Mariner’s House on 11 North Square.[1] Born in Boston, Fisher was a renowned scientist who graduated from MIT and held a permanent position as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Wellesley College. Like many other lecturers of that era, she most likely presented findings from her recent book.[2] In it, she offered educational insights into the geographical distribution of various natural resources, such as oil, and their industrial applications in the US. The book featured a rich variety of illustrations, such as geological maps and images of industrial uses of petroleum, that were likely used at the time of her lecture.[3] The seamen’s society had acquired a stereopticon in 1894, which marked a significant change in the programming of the organization’s lecture and entertainment series, as it enabled presenters to enrich their talks with illustrated projections on a wall.[4]

Black and white photograph of an interior scene. The room has a window to the left with light coming in, framed portrait paintings on the back wall and cabinets on the right wall. In the center are four columns decorated with ribbons and greenery. Around the columns are chairs all facing towards the back wall. The end of the room by the back wall is raised like a stage with a piano on the right, and a chair to the left.
Photograph of the Chapel at the Mariner’s House on 11 North Square where the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society organized lectures and entertainment events, c.1905. Source: BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1906, 26-27.

My research at the MHS explores a relatively uncharted aspect of maritime history: the role of seamen’s societies in organizing educational and entertainment events to impact the lives of transient seamen. This focus aims to illuminate the broader implications of such organizations beyond merely providing room and board. Organizations like the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society increasingly engaged in promoting cultural programs to foster education, community, and self-improvement, which was part of a broader strategy to instill Christian values and counteract the exploitation of seafarers while ashore. These efforts also addressed the presumed relationship between industrialization and the deterioration of seamanship by re-educating those marginalized by capitalism.[5]

By exploring the rich archival records of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society at the MHS, I aim to reveal the nuances of how lectures and entertainment events were planned, executed, and received by their intended audiences. This research will provide a more comprehensive picture of the seafarer’s urban and social world, which is all too often reduced to prostitution, gambling, and drinking.[6] The study also demonstrates that seamen’s organizations were an integral part of the broader, flourishing lecture and entertainment circuit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, echoing the principles of the lyceum movement, which was instrumental in promoting adult education through public lectures, debates, and concerts.[7] Furthermore, the prominent role of figures like Elizabeth F. Fisher highlights the integral part women played in these educational endeavors, as was the case for women who led concerts, delivering musical performances that enriched these gatherings.

Color photograph of an open book with black ink print on white paper. The heading on the page on the left, page 16, is "Lectures."
Overview of the lectures and entertainment events hosted by the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society in 1920, including the illustrated lecture by Prof. Elizabeth F. Fisher. Source: BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1921, 16-17.

While not all lectures, entertainments, and religious gatherings were illustrated, the incorporation of technology like the stereopticon, as well as the employment of instruments during performances, and the later use of the film projector for the showing of silent films –often accompanied by live music– aligned with the broader lecture circuit’s embrace of innovative methods to enhance learning and retention, making complex subjects accessible and engaging to a wide audience.[8] Additionally, seamen’s organizations also fostered a sense of camaraderie and joy through singing religious hymns and singalongs, with the latter often accompanied by the projection of song names to facilitate participation.[9] This use of projection technology highlights seamen’s societies’ aims to blend education with essential social interaction.

The enduring legacy of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society’s commitment to the welfare and education of seafarers remains a testament to the enduring value of community and knowledge. The rich archival material at the MHS not only sheds light on a neglected facet of maritime history but also underscores the timeless relevance of educational outreach in empowering individuals against the challenges of their times. By delving into the past, we gain insights into the methods and motivations that shaped lives, offering lessons that remain profoundly applicable in today’s ever-evolving societal landscapes.

Link to Multimedia Resources

To give readers a taste of the atmosphere during entertainments at seamen’s organizations like the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society, links to a typical song and film from this era, enjoyed during the singalongs and screenings of silent films, are included below. These examples not only reflect historical tastes but also enrich our understanding of seafarers’ social lives during the period.

Music: I Just Roll Along Having My Ups and Downs (1928)

Film: Hold ‘em Yale (1928)

[1] Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society records (BPSAS), MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Report of the Managers, 1921, 16.

[2] Robert R. Shrock, Geology at MIT, 1865-1965: A History of the First Hundred (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977), 400.

[3] Elizabeth F. Fisher, Resources and Industries of the United States (Ginn and Co: New York, 1919).

[4] BPSAS, MHS, Annual Reports, 1832-1977, Annual Report of the Managers, 1895, 7.

[5] For a general overview of the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society’s history, see: Patrick M. Leehey, A History of the Mariner’s House (Boston: Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society, 1995).

[6] The Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society records at the MHS consist of 69 volumes and other records in 17 record cartons (Ms. N-366) and 3 reels of microfilm (P-717), spanning the years 1829-1977.

[7] For the lyceum movement, see, for instance: Tom F. Wright (ed.), The Cosmopolitan Lyceum: Lecture Culture and the Globe in Nineteenth-Century America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

[8] Margo Buelens-Terryn and Kristof Loockx, ‘Bringing the World into View: Explorations and the Illustrated Lecture Circuit in Early Twentieth-Century Antwerp and Brussels,’ in: J. Happel, M. Hussinger, and H. Raupach (eds.), Expeditions in the Long Nineteenth Century: Discovering, Surveying, and Ordering (New York: Routledge, 2024), 244-245.

[9] Seamen’s Church Institute’s Digital Archives, Outreach Text and Images, Song-Hit Slides.

Pride in Massachusetts

by Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

May 17, 2024, was the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state, the first state in the nation to do so. To celebrate such an important landmark, as well as Pride month, I wanted to look at some LGBTQIA+ representation in our archives. I found out that we have the papers of Gerry E. Studds, the first openly gay US Congressman, and decided to explore them. I had never heard of him before, so it was fascinating to learn about this piece of history as someone who did not grow up in Massachusetts. Outed after a male ex-page reported having a consensual sexual relationship with Studds when he was 17, Studds chose to acknowledge and claim his sexuality rather than hide behind a veneer of heterosexual respectability. His bid worked. He would go on to serve in Congress for more than a decade after the scandal broke. Representing the 10th District including Cape Cod and the South Shore, he was committed to addressing marine and environmental concerns and maintained a strong anti-war stance throughout his time in Congress. I would love to explore his other activist focuses eventually, but for this blog I want to focus on his AIDS advocacy and support for gay rights.

Small black and white image of a white man with thinning hair wearing a white shirt with a dark tie. He is wearing large glasses on his face and is frowning.]
Gerry E. Studds, from the Congressional Archive.

I remember learning about AIDS as a child, but by the time I learned about it, it was no longer a death sentence the way it was in the 80s when Studds first spoke up about it. In his papers, he continually pointed out how HIV/AIDS was a deadly infection. He heavily critiqued his fellow representatives for not considering groups affected, such as gay men and intravenous drug users, as worthy of protection. In his view, it was a serious disease and a health crisis. Studds’ disagreement with Reagan’s hands-off approach to the epidemic is rooted in his observation that it “seems that the principal social activity today of a whole generation of young gay men and women is attending the funerals of equally young friends.” He also explicitly links support for an improved healthcare system to an improved prognosis for AIDS patients and vocally calls for more funding for AIDS care, treatment, and research.

Sheet of paper with a blue heading for Gerry E. Studds’ Congressional office and a date of January 24th, 1995. The statement that follows notes Studds’ doubt for a productive hearing on gay and lesbian issues and his concerns that it would fuel more violence.
Studds’ concerns about anti-gay violence were well-placed. Matthew Shepard was murdered 3 years after this statement, in 1998.

He does not only care about AIDS, however. Studds is vocal about other gay issues, like military service. He objects to the anti-gay rules in the military, including what became known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and calls for gay military members to be able to serve openly and “with dignity,” pointing out that “you cannot blackmail someone who has nothing to hide.” It was not until 2011 that the policy was repealed and LGBTQ people could serve openly in the military without threat of being discharged. He argued that “the fear of gays is largely based on an ignorance that breeds ignorance” and that normalizing being gay was the key to creating a society where LGBTQ people are welcomed and cared for.

Sheet of paper with a blue heading for Gerry E. Studds’ Congressional office and a date of November 15, 1993. The statement that follows addresses the importance of open gay representation in politics.
Today there are 12 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, which surely would have thrilled Studds.

It’s striking to read these documents and see just how recent many LGBTQ gains are. Studds came out in 1983. Gay marriage was legalized federally in 2015. The US Supreme Court upheld that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in 2020. These are all well within living memory. Civil rights are living, breathing, developing laws and policies, and the reality is still very far from rosy. As Gerry Studds said, “we will continue the struggle until the final chapter has been written and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”

Asian American and Pacific Island History at the MHS 

By Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor

The MHS held a special event featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander history to mark Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month on 28 May 2024. The event began with a reception to bring together guests from various communities, institutions and organizations, followed by two special guest speakers, Representative Tackey Chan, of the Second Norfolk District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Dr. Paul Watanabe, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  

Color photograph of three people in a wood-paneled room with art on the walls and a cannon in the background, with a decorative rug on the wooden floor. There are two men, one older, one middle-aged, and a middle-aged woman, all three are Asian of different backgrounds. The man to the left is wearing a white shirt with black pants and leans onto a cane while listening and holding a beverage. The man in the middle is wearing a black suit jacket and pants with a blue collared shirt and multicolored tie. The woman on the right is wearing a yellow dress with pink filigree and is holding a black clipboard while speaking and gesturing to the man on the left.
From left to right: Dr. Paul Watanabe, Rep. Tackey Chan, and Rakashi Chand, MHS.

Rep. Chan and Dr. Watanabe both spoke about the need to bring Asian American histories and people into sight, as the stories and voices of AAPI peoples have been historically ignored or removed from the narrative. Representative Chan discussed the many incidents of mistreatment, discrimination, exclusion and hate crimes committed against Asian Americans through the centuries. Both spoke about the importance of being seen and the importance of teaching and learning the history of AAPI people.  

This was followed by a beautiful dance performed by members of the Newton Chinese Language Teachers Club, mesmerizing attendees and filling the MHS with music. 

Three color photographs of 5 Asian women in matching costumes which are yellow and pink with long white sleeves that drape over the dancer's hands onto the ground. Their hair is half up or all up with a decorative hat with colorful dangling decorations on them. In each photograph the women are dancing a different part of a dance.
Photographs captured of the Newton Chinese Language Teachers Club dance

Rakashi Chand, Reading Room Supervisor, then welcomed the crowd to the MHS, along with Peter Drummey, Chief Historian & Stephen T. Riley Librarian, and kicked off the multi-case interpretation featuring collection items related to Asian American and Pacific Islander history at the MHS. 

Items featured throughout the building for the event included: 

Banquet to the Ambassadors of Japan, by Members of the Boston Board of Trade: Bill of Fare 

This handsome hand-painted silk menu was printed for a farewell dinner honoring Japanese diplomats and technical advisors after a seven-month visit to the United States. Among the visitors were key figures in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the new imperial regime. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered speeches that evening.   

“Mess Hall, Bathroom, Barracks. Japanese Relocation Center. Heart Mt. Wyoming.” 

This watercolor painting by Estelle Ishigo depicts the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, one of ten internment camps established for Japanese Americans during World War II. Ishigo was recruited as a “Documentary Reporter” for the War Relocation Authority and recorded the internment experience in illustrations, line drawings, oil, and watercolors. 

金山日新录.  Kim Shan Jit San Luk (Alternative title: Golden Hills’ News) Newspaper, 22 April 1854 

The first print of the first Chinese-language Newspaper in America.  

Letter from Pandita Ramabai from the Judith Walker Andrews Correspondence, 1887-1911, consists of letters from Pandita Ramabai describing her work to care for and educate child widows at Sharada Sadan and Mukti Sadan as well as other correspondence and accounts. 

Convention of amity and commerce with Kingdom of Siam, [manuscript copy, 1833.] 

First trade agreement with Thailand. In Thai; accordion folded scroll.  

Key to the city of Seoul, South Korea, presented to Henry Cabot Lodge. Bronze, gold leaf. 

And many more items!  

The event was well attended and enjoyed by an appreciative audience, many of whom attended for the first time. The MHS features material and scholarship related to Asian American and Pacific Islander History every May in honor of AAPI Heritage Month. Check the events calendar to attend next year. 

If you are interested in viewing these or other Asian American and Pacific Islander collection items at the MHS please use the online catalog, Abigail, to request items in the Library. Everyone is welcome to use the library and conduct research in the Reading Room. If you are interested in donating items to the collection, please see the webpage on Donating to the Collection.