The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Correcting the Record

When searching for MHS material about Cuba to coincide with President Obama’s recent trip, I ended up on the trail of another mystery, this time related to the identification of a photograph. In the Winthrop Murray Crane photographs, I found an image identified as Theodore Roosevelt in Havana, Cuba, 2 March 1904. But there was a problem: Roosevelt was serving as president in 1904. News outlets had been consistently reporting that Obama was only the second sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba, Calvin Coolidge being the first. It seemed unlikely that I’d uncovered a previously unknown trip to the island by Theodore Roosevelt!

Here’s the photograph in question. The subject, whoever he is, strolls pensively through the tobacco fields.



In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was the one who processed this collection as an MHS intern over ten years ago. I don’t remember what I based my identification on, but it wasn’t far-fetched; Crane was a Republican politician and close friend of Roosevelt’s. In fact, the very same collection includes three photographs of Crane and Roosevelt in Framingham, Mass. in 1902, during Crane’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts.




The puzzling 1904 photograph was apparently sent to Crane by a man named Arthur Plumb, who wrote on the back: “Compliments of Arthur W. Plumb, Havana Cuba March 2d 1904.” No mention of Roosevelt, and the photograph may have been taken at any time and only given to Crane that year. So both subject and date were questionable. (Probably the absence of Roosevelt’s characteristic pince-nez spectacles should have been a clue.)

Thankfully we have some great resources here at the MHS library. One of them is our resident walking encyclopedia, Peter Drummey (otherwise known as the Stephen T. Riley Librarian). He immediately identified the subject of the photograph as Charles Francis Adams (1835-1915), great-grandson of John Adams and former president of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Adams was in Cuba in 1890, which may have been when the photograph was taken. I compared it to others in our holdings. Here’s Adams as he appears in our collection of portraits of MHS members, sporting his trademark bushy white mustache. His jacket is even buttoned the same way!



I’ll close with an interesting, though unrelated, anecdote about Governor Winthrop Murray Crane documented in his papers and photographs. On 3 September 1902, Crane and Roosevelt were in a dramatic traffic accident in Pittsfield, Mass., when their horse-drawn carriage was hit by a streetcar. Unfortunately a man named William Craig died in the accident, becoming the first Secret Service agent killed in the line of duty. Here is a photograph of the damaged carriage.



permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 April, 2016, 10:39 AM


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