Of Sun and Sand: Beaches in the MHS Collections

By Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

As this very rainy summer winds down and fall peeks its head out from around the corner, I find myself thinking wistfully about going to the beach. Growing up in NJ meant that summer was full of trips to the shore and the boardwalk. I formed a strong affinity for the beach. This wet and dreary summer has made taking a trip out to one of the many beaches around Boston difficult. Instead, I decided to take a virtual visit to some of the beach scenes that the MHS has in its archives. There are quite a few! It’s not quite as good as getting the sand between my toes, but it is delightful to see people from all different times enjoying themselves at the beach just like I do.

Black and white scene of a beach. There is a little boy in the foreground. In the background there is a pair close to the water and a group of people playing with a ball further from the water.
North End Bathing Beach, Boston, possibly by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1920s

Heather Rockwood wrote a blog last year about some of Boston’s beaches but these are far from the only beaches in the MHS collections. One such example is the image of a bathing beach in the North End. The little boy in the foreground drew me in immediately with the mischievous glint in his eyes as he looks at the camera and the mostly empty beach in the background. He is not alone, though. On the other side of the beach, some more people are in view, including a group that looks like they are playing some kind of game and an older pair looking out at the water. However, instead of the bathing suits I grew up wearing, everyone is fully dressed in normal clothing. Despite that, this is very recognizable as a scene at a beach today, just as the crowded beach labeled as “probably in Boston area” from the same collection elicits a sense of salt air and giggling as children run through the crowds of people and umbrellas. Despite being from the 1910s, the image is familiar and nostalgic to me more than 100 years later.

Scene of a beach. There are lots of people sitting under umbrellas and playing in the water. The image is black and white
View of crowded beach, probably in Boston area, unidentified photographer, circa 1910s.

Now that’s what I call beach!

Beach paintings are also a theme I recognize. I love the paintings of blue skies and oceans and charming beaches that show up in MHS collections, including a collection by Henry Adams. A watercolor of a beach in the Caribbean is especially interesting to me. It’s not terribly sophisticated but it captures the sense of peace that I always feel at the beach. Adams also created sketches of people and palm trees on the beach. It almost makes me want to dive in myself! The romance of sunny beaches in faraway lands is enticing and looking through these examples is delightful.

Watercolor of a beach. The bulk of the beach was created by the page intentionally left blank. There is darker coastline to the left. The water is very blue and the sky is a slightly lighter blue. The scene does not have any people.
[A beach on the Caribbean. Nassau? 1894-5], by Henry Adams.

If you haven’t been to the beach in a while, looking through some of the MHS collections can be a great way to “go to the beach” virtually. I know I enjoyed flipping through all the beautiful pictures! If beaches are not your scene, though, the Beehive has explored plenty of other places, including the White Mountains, New Zealand, Europe, and cross-country trips. Explore our archives and blogs to plan your virtual vacation!