The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

The final week of June is a fairly quiet one here at the Society. Here is what's coming up:

- Monday, 26 June, 6:00PM : The Price for their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation is the title of a new publication by past research fellow, Daina Ramey Berry of the University of Texas at Austin. In her work, Berry shows the lengths to which enslavers would go to maximize profits and protect their investments and how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered, and sold throughout the course of their lives. This author talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the speaking progam begins at 6:00PM. 

- Wednesday, 28 June, 6:00PM : The second author talk of the week features Ann Little of Colorado State University who will discuss her recent book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Little examines the multilingual, multicultural, and border-crossing life of Wheelwright, lived among the three major cultures of colonial North America, and the communites of girls and women around her. The talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the speaking progam begins at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 1 July, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

Please note that the Society is CLOSED on Monday, 3 July, and Tuesday, 4 July, for Independence Day. Normal hours resume on Wednesday, 5 July. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

A Swing through Lynn Woods around 1910

The Lynn Woods Reservation is a fun place to spend some time among trees and even take in views of the Boston skyline. It is also notable for various features and structures, such as Stone Tower, Dungeon Rock, and the Wolf Pits, as well as the stories behind them. My dad grew up in Lynn, and I’ve been to the woods myself, so I have some familiarity with these stories. However, I recently had an opportunity to “explore” the woods with two new guides.

"Breed's Pond," photograph by Edward P. Nostrand; "At the Bend of the Road," poem by Nellie F. Rogers.

The MHS is home to a Lynn Woods photograph album, ca. 1910, consisting of various photographs of Lynn Woods along with explanatory text. The text by Edward P. Nostrand, which includes descriptions of various locations as well as short stories associated with the woods, reads like the transcript of a guided tour. The text interacts nicely with his photographs and Nellie F. Rogers’s poetry to provide an engaging sweep through the Lynn Woods of the early 20th century based on the perspectives of two people who experienced it.

Nostrand prefaces his narrative with a warning that “the legends have been handed down from generation to generation, and as to their truth, the reader must accept them as such.” He starts by briefly describing the early settlement of the Lynn area by Europeans in the seventeenth century. He writes about a supposed pirate encounter in 1656, in which a ship owned by Captain Kid [sic] came up the Saugus River and men from the ship got out and went into the woods. In response to a letter, the townspeople provided shackles and handcuffs to the pirates. According to the story, the men placed treasure in the woods, under Dungeon Rock.

Nostrand also tells the story of Hiram Marble, a man who spent years blasting through the rock in the hopes of finding the treasure; while he never did find what Nostrand calls “treasure which never existed,” the effort has left behind a path in the rock, which is still open for exploration today. 

 "Dungeon Rock & Guide," photograph by Edward P. Nostrand

In addition to telling these fascinating stories, Nostrand describes various locations within the woods, as well as some of the flora and fauna there. Among the spots he mentions, and includes photographs of, are “Breed’s Pond,” “Fern Dell,” “Lovers Lane,” and “Forest Castle.” One particular feature that seems to be of particular significance to Nostrand is a group of white birch trees, about which he writes “Oh ye Gods what a sight! There they stand – are they not beautiful?” The previous page includes both a photograph of white birch trees and a poem by Rogers, titled “The White Birch,” which reads as follows:

The beautiful white birch grew tall and straight,

‘Till it seemed to reach the “Golden Gate.”

And the story it told to its sister pines

Was filled with melody and wondrous chimes.

It told of the sky’s each varying hue;

It told of the beauties of nature too;

And the tale was wafted to you and me,

While borne by the wind from tree to tree.


 "The White Birch," photograph by Edward P. Nostrand; "The White Birch," poem by Nellie F. Rogers

This Lynn Woods photograph album offers an exciting glimpse into the Lynn Woods of the 1910 period, as seen and documented by Nostrand and Rogers. Nostrand’s narrative should not serve as a transcript for a 2017 walking tour – he uses some language that is offensive today, and, based on my knowledge of the woods and my viewing of his photographs, the area does not look exactly the same now as did over a century ago. However, if you would like to engage with the woods as Nostrand and Rogers would have in the early 20th century, feel free to view the album here in the MHS library.

Additionally, if you are interested in the stories around Dungeon Rock, N. S. Emerson’s The History of Dungeon Rock: Completed Sept. 17th, 1856 (Boston: Adams, 1856) and Dungeon Rock; or The Pirate’s Cave at Lynn (Boston: C.M.A. Twitchell, 1885) are print items held by the MHS that may be of interest. Copies of an 1859 edition of The History of Dungeon Rock (Bela Marsh), which the MHS also holds, as well as the 1885 Dungeon Rock book are available electronically through Internet Archive.

"The Tower," photograph by Edward P. Nostrand

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 June, 2017, 5:27 PM

Photographs at the MHS

Having spent the last few weeks immersed in a very interesting collection of 19th- and early 20th-century photographs (more on that in a later post), I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about processing photographs here at the MHS and what goes into making these terrific collections available to researchers. 

The MHS is primarily a manuscript repository, but most of our manuscript collections come to us with at least a few photographs mixed in. Because of their special storage and preservation needs, the photographs are removed and stored separately. Unfortunately we don’t have the resources to process all of our photograph collections, but we have cataloged many of them in our catalog ABIGAIL, and over fifty are described in more detailed online guides.

Describing a photograph collection is challenging, and not just because of the technical knowledge required. For one thing, unlike manuscript collections, which are arranged into groups of related material (correspondence, diaries, financial papers, etc.), photographs are described at the item level. Every photograph is listed individually, and each listing includes most of the following information: subject, date, photographer, location, type, size, and condition, as well as any label or caption.


Just the subject and date can be tricky! The collection I’m currently processing, for example, contains hundreds of photographs and came to us completely unorganized. Many of the photographs include no identifying information at all. Since the collection encompasses five generations of a very large family, as well as families related by marriage, I had to do a lot of genealogical research. As I sorted through the photographs, I started to recognize familiar faces (“Hey, it’s Frank!”). My colleague Sabina Beauchard described the fun of making these connections in an earlier Beehive post.

Dates of photographs can be determined—or at least estimated—based on various factors. Here it helps to know something about the history of photography, and fortunately for me (not even close to an expert) our library has some great resources on the subject. If I know when a particular photographic process was invented and when it was most popular, I can make an educated guess about a photograph’s date, even if I can’t identify the subject. I often use “circa” dates and date ranges to hedge my bets.

The earliest photographic processes were metal- or glass-based, and the types I’ve seen most are daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Each has distinctive characteristics. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes both come in cases or enclosures, but a daguerreotype has a mirrored surface, and you have to hold it at a slight angle to see the image. This isn’t true for ambrotypes. And the tintype is the only one of the three that’s magnetic.

Starting in the 1860s, these types of photographs were gradually replaced by paper-based cartes de visite and, later, cabinet cards. These come in standard sizes: cartes de visite are about the size of baseball cards (2.5” x 4”), and cabinet cards are larger (4.25” x 6.5”).

I may be able to use contextual clues to determine the date of a photograph—clothes, hairstyle, etc. If I have multiple photographs of the same person, I can try to guess their age, but this is more of an art than a science! Biographical details are useful: when did they take that trip to Philadelphia? When did they get married? If a photographer printed his or her name and address on a photograph, I can research when the studio was located there. There may even be something in the manuscript collection to help, like a letter the photograph was enclosed in.

Our digital team sometimes comes along behind us and digitizes part or all of a photograph collection, and we link to that content from the guide. Several of our Civil War photograph collections are accessible this way, as are our Portraits of American Abolitionists. Or to find photographs related to a particular person or subject, you can always just search our website. If you can identify anybody we missed, don’t hesitate to let us know!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

Here is the round-up of events in the week to come here at the MHS:

- Tuesday, 20 June, 6:00PM : Starting off the week is an author talk with the Society's own Conrad Edick Wright, editor of Pedagogues and Protestors: The Harvard College Student Diary of Stephen Peabody, 1767-1768. Through the lens of of the daily journal entries of Stephen Peabody, Wright guides us through the relationships among students, faculty, and administrators at Harvard College in the lead-up to the largest student strike at any colonial college. The culmination of months of tensions between undergraduates and faculty resulted in over half the student body leaving campus in protest against new rules regarding class preparation. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Wednesday, 21 June, 5:00PM : MHS Fellows are invited to the Society's annual business meeting. RSVP by e-mailing or calling 617-646-0572. This event is open only to MHS Fellows.

The library closes early on Wednesday at 3:45PM in preparation for the annual meeting.

- Friday, 23 June, 12:00PM : "Bonds Burst Asunder: The Revolutionary Politics of 'Getting By' in Civil War and Emancipation" is a rare Friday Brown Bag talk. In this project, Kathleen Hilliard of Iowa State University examines the transformation of southern political economy during the era of the American Civil War and African American emancipation, exploring how crisis and transition exposed weaknesses in slavery's cruel paternalist bargains. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 24 June, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

- Saturday, 24 June, 4:00PM : Come in on Satuday afternoon for "'Impossible Dreamers': The Pennant-Winning 1967 Boston Red Sox." This special program features a temporary exhibition of photographs and artifacts that runs through July 8. However, only on Saturday will you be able to see the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series trophies! There is also a panel discussion on Saturday moderated by Red Sox historian Gordon Edes with panelists Herb Crehan (author of The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation), Bill Nowlin (The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field), and Tom Whalen (The Spirit of '67: Cardiac Kids, El Birdos, and the World Series That Captivated America). This program is open to the public and registration is requried with a fee of $20. Please register and pay online using the RSVP link. 

The library closes early on Saturday at 3:00PM in preparation for the afternoon program.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, June 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:

Introduction | January | February | March | April | May

Unusual for this diary is a long unbroken series of entries from 1 June - 20 June without any missing pages (though we then skip to 26 July with a series of torn-out entries). The beginning of June documents a bustling social schedule punctuated by trips to Ilaro to view or supervise the ongoing construction. In the final June entry, for example, “sever rain” led to two separate trips to Ilaro in order to examine the damage done when gutters “behaved awfully.”


The distant war also enters back into the frame of English colonial life when Gertrude takes her son John to a church service held to send off the troops. “We both loved it!” she reports, with a rare exclamation point, describing the sermon as “splendid” and making note of two particular hymns that were played by the band.

We also see hints of relationship drama in the recurring figure of Harold Austin who is first mentioned on 9 June as the instigator of an outing in search of some wood flooring, presumably for Ilaro. He then turns the shopping excursion into a dinner party and, at some point during the evening “unburdens his soul” to Gertrude about “having a time of it with the fair Kitty.” He confided in her that “[he] has suddenly decided to go to England.” Four days later, Gertrude notes: “Harold Austin left suddenly today.” Whether to retreat from or in pursuit of the fair Kitty, we are left guessing.

Here is Gertrude’s June in her own words.

* * *

1 June.

Miss Barton to the house.


2 June.

Paid calls and to the Savannah.


3 June.

Ilaro with John. We have much fun in the [illegible] house planning & playing together. To the [illegible] & visited his coral caves.


4 June.

A luncheon party before the races. The Kings, the Clarence Haynes, Captain Hancock (Charlie Haynes could not come) who was so charming to me. I had a delightful afternoon. John and Mickey came too.

Gymkana at the Savannah.


5  June.

More home carving.

7.30 dined with Mrs. Carpenter.


6 June

Subcommittee on Savannah improvements

1. Improvement committee

Miss Burton at 4.30 carving.


7 June.


Governor House at home.


8 June.

Another Savannah meeting.


9 June. Saturday.

Harold Austin about some nice wood he has for a floor. Such an amusing afternoon. We drove out to Blackman Plantation to a stone and garden [illegible] there. G. promptly disappeared into the woods with Mrs. H. H. Sealy so tripped off with Harold myself, who had just joined us and was looking so nice in his new uniform. Then had my fortune told! Harold Austin gave a dinner party to whoever he could find -- Mr. Fell & Mrs. Frank [illegible] was coralled first & then Mrs. Carpenter who had a [illegible] & was quite ready to [illegible] Frank Austin & Mr. Carpenter very serious were produced & then Harold Austin sank exhausted next to me & unburdened his soul. He is evidently having a time of it with the fair Kitty & has suddenly decided to go to England. After supper we had a go at the theater. Harold Whyte came too & it was all fine hours later.


10 June. Sunday.

Mrs. Austin had a picnic for the kids only we had it in the house because it rained.


11 June.


A [illegible] party with Mrs. Sean Evelyn. Laddie. Mrs. DaCosta.


12 June.



Called Carpenters & Evelyns.

Took Miss Mary & Mrs. Sealy to house.


13 June.

10. [illegible] meeting

1. Theatre Co. meeting

To C.P. Clarkes at home

Charlie Haynes afterward

Harold Austin left suddenly today


14 June.

Savannah dull.


15 June.

Took John to a farewell to troops.

Service at the Cathedral. We both loved it! They had the band & sang “O God Our Help in Ages Past” and “Fight the Good Fight.” & Fr. Dallin preached a splendid sermon.


16 June.


Took John to Bazaar.

¼ h8. Dinner party at Mrs. Charlie Sealey’s. Great fun. Talked politics afterward.


18 June.

Mrs. Austin & kids & we took our [illegible] to Maxwells. Afterward [illegible]. Victrola Magic Lantern.


19 June.

Tour with John.


[illegible] tour at [illegible] Parks.

Miss Packer re her [illegible].

C Hayden for sunset.


20 June.

Severe rain.

Ilaro. Gutters behaved awfully.

Ilaro again to see the damage.


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, 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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

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