The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Armistice Day, 11 November 1918

Today marks the 97th anniversary of the Armistice of Compiègne and the official end of World War I. You may be celebrating Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, depending on where you live.

The MHS holds the papers of many soldiers, aid workers, and other men and women caught up in the Great War. Among them is an entertaining collection of 43 letters from Alton Abraham Lawrence of New Bedford, Mass. to his friend Albert Stedman Murdy. Lawrence served in England and France as a private in the 658th Aero Squadron and 1108th Aero Replacement Squadron of the American Expeditionary Forces. In a letter dated 13 Nov. 1918, he described the armistice celebrations in Paris:



"In my letter of a week ago today I told you that the war would be over soon. It sure is and I’m not a bit sorry either. The terms embodied in the armistice were stiff enough to bury all the German Junkers. In a couple of weeks the Germans will be in the power of the armies who represent democracy.

“'Now let’s go,' is the cry over here. All the boys in the A.E.F. are raving about going home. Can you blame us? I know you can’t. Unless they will send me to do guard duty in Germany I want to come home tout de suite. If they will send me there I’m game for another year overseas. I[t] sure would be fine for me to hike down the main drag in Berlin.[…]

"When the glad news in regard to signing the armistice was heralded I was in camp. The anti aircraft batteries in Paris put up a fake barrage in honor of the occasion. The noise could be heard for miles around.

"Yesterday I was in Paris and sure did have a great time. All the boys in the surrounding camps were on pass until reveille this morning. The people are wild and sure are celebrating. They are making no effort to conceal their elation.

"From the Louvre up the Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe the mobs command the roads and walks. The Tulleries [sic] is always filled with people whose cheeks are flushed with ardor. In some instances the men are carrying women on their shoulders. The gangs are apt to do most anything.

"I was near the Madeliene [sic] when I got cornered by a gang of larkers. The[y] formed a ring around the rose bush (some rose bush). Believe me they can yell viva l’America. The troops had a loud time. Honest to goodness I never celebrated so in my life before. I ate, drank and yelled until I was almost gag[g]ed. Oh what a head next morning. France has less wine and co[g]nac than she had a week ago."


Lawrence had enlisted just over a year before, on 28 Oct. 1917. Now he was 22 years old and anxious to get back to the life he’d left behind. His return would be delayed for over five months, but he kept his spirits up and continued to write regular letters to Murdy, reminiscing about old times and speculating on his post-war plans. For one thing, he resolved to continue his interrupted education under Prof. Harry C. Bentley at the brand-new Bentley School of Accounting and Finance (now Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.).

I was particularly impressed by Lawrence’s appreciation for those personal relationships that had carried him through his wartime service. His friendship with Murdy had apparently been somewhat new or distant at the beginning of their separation, but their correspondence brought them closer. Lawrence anticipated a warmer friendship with him:

"When we get together again we will meet with a fondness that we have never felt before. One could hardly say that you and I have been together very much socially. The tone of your letters gives me the confidence to make this assertion. I guess that I am not far from being correct this time, am I Albert? I used to regard you as a damned good fellow and you know that old kid."


Lawrence had also developed a new perspective on his father:

"He sure is a good old scout and I have often been very sorry that I did not chum around with him more when I was a little fellow. But the Dad was always a pretty tired man when he came home from work. My father has had to work for everything he has and this took up most of his time. There is another time coming to us and we should be able to get together then."


Of course, it wasn’t just the high-minded things that Lawrence missed. He also looked forward to cruising in his car (“the old EMF”) around Boston and New Bedford, where he was sure he and Murdy would find “plenty of Janes.” Along the top of the 13 Nov. 1918 letter shown above, his first to Murdy after the armistice, Lawrence wrote excitedly: “Shine up the EMF.”

Lawrence’s cheerful and slangy letters are definitely worth a read. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to learn much about his life after the war. Census records show that he returned to New Bedford and married a woman named Ruth, with whom he had two daughters, Lillian and Hannah. He died in 1942 at the age of 45.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 November, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

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

- Tuesday, 10 October, 5:15PM : "Andre Michaux and the Many Politics of Trees in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World." This talk given by Elizabeth Hyde of Kean University is part of the Environmental History Seminar series. Comment provided by Joseph Cullon, MIT/WPI. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 11 October : Building CLOSED, Veteran's Day.

- Thursday, 12 October, 5:30PM : "Writing with Giants: Making the Human Larger than Life." This latest installment of the New England Biography Seminar series features a discussion between Civil War biographer Carol Bundy and Harvard's John Stauffer about his upcoming biography of Charles Sumner.

- Friday, 13 October, 6:00PM : An Evening with David McCullough. This event is SOLD OUT. If you would like to be placed on the waiting list, please call 617-646-0518 or click here

- Saturday, 14 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces at the Society's building. The tour is free and open to the public. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibitions.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 10:29 AM

The Past Is Still Present at Downtown Crossing: Blake and Amory Building

Those of you who live in, or have recently traveled through, Boston know that we are in the midst of a construction boom. Cranes dot the skyline and in many neighborhoods no sooner is one project complete than another one breaks ground. In the midst of this changing landscape the past is never far below the surface. Whether at a macro level (as discussed in the Transforming Boston series this fall) or at the micro level of specific neighborhoods and structures, the physical spaces we live and work in on a daily basis hold imprints of the past, if you care to pay attention. Buildings and streetscapes can provide entry-points into the documentary record of the archive, encouraging us to consider how previous eras have shaped our own.


Amory building


One recent example of this which I stumbled across while running an errand in Downtown Crossing was the Blake and Amory building at the corner of West and Washington streets, currently under renovations after being vacant for some time.


Amory doorway


Prompted by the “Amory Building 1904” above the preserved doorway, I returned to the Society and poked around both in the MHS collections and online to see what I could uncover about the history of this particular building and its surroundings.


Washington St.


Located in Boston’s long-established shopping district, the Blake and Amory building was designed by Arthur H. Bowditch and built in 1904 with additions in 1908. Throughout the twentieth century the building housed commercial tenants selling garments and shoes, furniture, and other dry goods. In 2014 the building was registered as a history property with the National Park Service and the registration application (PDF) provides rich details regarding its construction and use over the course of the twentieth century.

The MHS holds scant information about the Blake and Amory building specifically, but a number of print publications and graphics documenting the lively commercial history of the neighborhood, and within these materials it is possible to catch glimpses of Blake and Amory’s past lives. For example, this photograph from our Views collection -- tentatively dated to the 1930s -- was taken across the street from the Paramount Theater at 549 Washington St., also designed by Arthur H. Bowditch, and shows the Blake and Amory building on the left.

Washington St., 1930s


These images are just a few examples of visual sources the MHS holds in the collections which help document the changing shape of our local environment. If you are interested in further exploration of our Boston images, please visit the library or contact us for further information.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 6 November, 2015, 12:30 PM

This Week @ MHS

It's a busy week at the Society heading into November. Here's what we have on tap:

- "War of Two." An author talk with John Sedgwick, discussing the antagonism between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, as detailed in his new book War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation. This SOLD OUT talk begins at 6:00PM on Monday, 2 November.

- "From the Indian Ocean to the New England Frontier: Huguenot Refugees and the Geopolitics of Empire, 1682-1700." This Early American History seminar is give by Owen Stanwood of Boston College, with Wim Klooster of Clark University providing comment. The seminar begins at 5:15PM on Tuesday, 3 November. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- "China's Wartime Interpreter Program for the U.S. Army, 1941-1945." On Wednesday, 4 November, stop by at noon for this Brown Bag talk with Zach Fredman of Boston University. Free and open to the public. 

- "Jefferson and Volney's Ruins of Empire." Author Thomas Christian Williams outlines his discovery of a manuscript at the MHS which proves Jefferson's involvement with the translation of Volney's controversial work. The talk begins at 6:00PM on Thursday, 5 November, and is open to the public for a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows or Members). 

The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 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 The tour begins on Saturday, 7 November, at 10:00AM.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 1 November, 2015, 12:00 AM

Memorializing the Fallen, Inspiring the Living: “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

I was all set to do a spooky Halloween post for this installment of the Beehive, but while looking for a broadside advertising a Boston magician, my eye snagged on the word Immortal in the title on a proximal folder. With magic on the mind, who wouldn’t be intrigued?

The document in the folder was “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren,” a poem by M.S.N. memorializing the death of a man described as a “Chieftain of Glory!” the “Hercules of Liberty!” whose “bold heart died to be free / Warm’d by its out-gushing flood.”

M.S.N.’s “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

Published in 1864 it seemed clear that this poem described a Civil War soldier, but who was The Immortal Dahlgren?

Halloween and magicians forgotten, I went on the hunt for this mysterious man.

Working backwards, I searched our online catalog ABIGAIL for the M.S.N. poem and found its item record (including Dahlgren’s first name - Ulric), and through that, two other poems and a memorial sermon of the same theme.

Chas. Henry Brock’s “Ulric Dahlgren”

B.B. French’s “Lines suggested by the death of one of the bravest men this war has brought into the service -- Colonel Ulric Dahlgren”

B. Sunderland's "In memoriam: Colonel Ulric Dahlgren"

Sunderland’s memorial sermon includes copies  of the three poems I had already found, with the addition of one by H.T. Tuckerman. 

H.T. Tuckerman's "Ulric Dahlgren"

All the poems describe, in florid prose, Dahlgren’s heroic battle actions, with Tuckerman’s also alluding to Dahlgren’s Swedish heritage and injuries he sustained earlier in his short career. 

The picture they paint is emotionally clear, if somewhat lacking in facts. Rev. Sunderland’s sermon helpfully fills in many of the gaps, beginning as it does at birth and expounding Dahlgren’s 22 years over 100 pages. Interestingly, the published copy also includes a letter from Congressman Schuyler Colfax and others requesting Sunderland to publish his oration. The letter reads, in part,

Dear [Rev. Byron Sunderland, D.D.]: We respectfully request that you will furnish for publication a copy of the eloquent and patriotic discourse on the life and death of Col. Dahlgren . . . We wish to see the noble daring and heroic devotion to the cause of his country, which characterized the brief but brilliant career of this young soldier, held up before the youth of our country that they may be stimulated to an honorable emulation of his virtues, and, if need be, to a similar sacrifice of their lives 

Not only is Colfax and company hoping to exemplify Dahlgren’s sacrifice for the Union army, but “to honor his memory” in hopes that it “will add to the reproach and shame of all [their] enemies and all who sympathize with them” 

The sermon itself draws the listener (or reader) through the life of a young man whose nature was shaped by “domestic, scholastic, and Christian influences,” and whose father’s military example inculcated in him the belief that “if [he dies], what death more glorious than the death of men fighting for their country?” 

Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren

Highly educated, Dahlgren began his career as a lawyer in his uncle’s practice before following in his father’s military footsteps in 1862. Wounded in July of 1863, Dahlgren lost his right foot but returned to active duty, a newly promoted Colonel, in November of that same year. In late February of 1864, he joined General Kilpatrick’s offensive to free Union soldiers held at the Confederate prison Belle Isle near Richmond, VA. The mission was a failure, and in the early hours of March 2, 1864, just a few miles outside of Richmond, Col. Dahlgren and 500 of his men were ambushed by Confederate forces. Of the fated encounter Sunderland writes

Among the bodies that rolled down together in the dust and darkness, were Ulric Dahlgren and his high-mettled horse, all pierced and shattered with the leaden hail that made them both one heap of swift mortality.

This quiet death, indistinguishable from the thousands of others that occurred around it was publicly honored by the Union leaders as the exemplary sacrifice of a selfless officer. Military and political leaders alike had a vested interest in inspiring commitment and sacrifice in the nation’s youth, and a fierce support on the part of their families. They wove a narrative of Ulric Dahlgren that supported this conviction: a young man from a prominent military family who rose rapidly through the official ranks and gave for his county what Abraham Lincoln called in the Gettysburg Address, “the last full measure of devotion.”

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a wealth of manuscript materials pertaining to the American Civil War, including firsthand accounts, military records, and photographs. Many collections and items have been digitized for projects associated with the 150th anniversary of the War, and still others are available for viewing on-site at the MHS library. Researchers interested in the Ulric Dahlgren memorials or any of our other collections are encouraged to stop by during any of our open hours.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 October, 2015, 12:08 PM

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