Death, Skeletons, and Fashion: New Exhibition and Book on the Jewelry of Mourning
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
How do you remember your deceased loved ones? Today many mourners have unique rituals for honoring the dead. Some brand their bodies with tattoos, or print photographs of the departed on T-shirts they can wear. In other cultures the more traditional outward displays of grief persist, such as donning black clothing for a period of time after the death.
Trends in mourning rituals and attire change with the times, and centuries ago the bereaved had their own ways of commemorating loved ones. In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, an upcoming exhibition at the MHS by jeweler Sarah Nehama and MHS Curator of Art Anne Bentley, examines the practice from the 17th through the 19th century of commissioning and wearing rings, bracelets, brooches, and other jewels to honor the dead.
The exhibition features mourning jewels and memento mori pieces. The former memorialize a family member or close friend who recently died. Examples in the exhibition feature inscriptions with the dead’s initials and date of death, hair work made from the locks of the deceased, and miniatures and daguerreotypes depicting the visage of the loved one. Memento mori pieces, however, do not remember a specific person, but rather serve to remind the wearer that a good Christian does not live for this world but for the next. Memento mori translates to “remember death."
Co-curator Sarah Nehama authored a companion book to the exhibition of the same name. In Death Lamented, now available for purchase on Amazon, displays vivid color photographs of the jewels, along with detailed information about the pieces, the mourners, and the mourned. It also examines the changing trends in memorial jewelry style, from baroque to rococo to neoclassical, and beyond.
Both the exhibition and book feature jewels commemorating prominent historical figures, including George Washington, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln. View these and other mourning jewels at the MHS exhibition beginning September 28, or preview the jewelry now by purchasing a copy of In Death Lamented. Also, check our events page for upcoming public programs related to mourning jewelry. You just might learn a little about the origins of your own bereavement traditions.
| Published: Thursday, 13 September, 2012, 4:48 PM
Celebrating Independence on July 2nd!
Yesterday we shared an Independence Day message from John Quincy Adams on the Beehive. In keeping in the spirit of preparing to celebrate our nation's birthday, today we share some of John Adams' words on the subject. In a letter dated 3 July 1776 future president John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Adams was correct about everything but the date! His description of people using "Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations" to mark this "most memorable day" is spot on for most American communities today. On Monday, 2 July visit the MHS to hear Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey explain why John Adams believed 2 July 1776 would be the most memorable day in the history of America. We will offer two gallery talks, at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, for interested visitors to learn the story.
If you cannot make it to a gallery talk, you can still plan to visit the MHS to view the exhibition The Most Memorable Day in the History of America: July 2, 1776. The exhibition, features letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams, manuscript copies of early drafts of the Declaration of Independence in both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson's own handwriting, and the Society's own first printing of the Declaration, also known as the Dunlap broadside. The exhibition is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, from 2 July through 31 August.
Alex Ashlock of WBUR spoke with Peter Drummey about the exhibition over the weekend. Read more in his write-up Should We Be Celebrating July 2nd?
| Published: Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 1:00 AM
History’s Mysteries: Building a Family Tree
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
The protagonist of my favorite mystery novel series, Maisie Dobbs, creates a map of each case she works on. A London detective in the 1930s, she pins down a large piece of paper and writes down every bit of information she discovers, drawing lines to connect the pieces as the case evolves. Recently the staff of the Society’s Publications Department took a page out of Maisie Dobbs’s book and created a “map” to solve our own mystery regarding family connections and progeny.
We are working on a book to coincide with the Society’s upcoming exhibition on mourning jewelry. The book, titled In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, features mourning jewels from the Society’s collection and from the private collection of the author, Sarah Nehama.
Several mourning jewels used in the book were donated to the Society by Dr. George Cheever Shattuck in 1971, and although some of the people those jewels honored shared last names, we could not initially discern how they were all related. Many prominent families in 18th- and 19th- century Boston intermarried and used the same names throughout generations, making it difficult to differentiate mothers, sisters, and cousins. Many parents also named their children after close family friends, confounding things further for any genealogist.
With one woman in particular we struggled – Elizabeth Cheever. The inscription on her mourning ring had been transcribed as “Elizabeth Cheever obt. 28 June 1814 Aet 72,” indicating that she was 72 and died on June 28, 1814. Even with these details we could not find biographical information on her anywhere. That is, until we had the help of a great MHS volunteer. Kathleen Fox, who is assisting with this project, discovered that the date of death we had for Elizabeth Cheever had been transcribed incorrectly. Rather than 1814, it was 1802! With this new date we were able to find Elizabeth Cheever using the Town Vital Records Collections of Massachusetts on Ancestry.com. Formerly Elizabeth Edwards, she was born in 1730 and married William Downes Cheever.
From this new information we were able to link Elizabeth Cheever to Mary Cheever (her sister-in-law), William Cheever (her son), and so on. We created a family tree, researching each family member until we had connected seven generations of Cheevers, Davises, and Shattucks. The family tree includes those commemorated by all of the jewels Dr. George Cheever Shattuck contributed to the MHS. No mean feat. But we’re not done yet. We still need one confirmation on a Hannah Davis. The mapping – and mystery – continues. Sometimes working at a historical society is just like being a detective.
For more information on the Cheever, Davis, and Shattuck families, read this earlier post on the discovery of Elizabeth Cheever (Davis) Shattuck’s travel diary. She appears in the family tree, and In Death Lamented features a mourning ring commemorating her.
| Published: Friday, 8 June, 2012, 1:00 AM
Anatomy of a Pun: 1813 Edition
Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. This colorful broadside will be featured in the MHS’s upcoming War of 1812 exhibition, Mr. Madison’s War, which opens on June 18. A broadside such as this would have been posted on the side of a building or kept for home consumption by a patriotic family. In its day, it would have been considered as funny – and meaningful – as our contemporary newspaper’s political cartoons or television news spoofs such as The Colbert Report. But without context, a great deal of this broadside’s wit could be lost to today’s reader.
With the title “Huzza for the American Navy,” the picture features a heavyset man in uniform. Two winged insects sting him on either side as he runs, brandishing his sword, to get away. They are on the beach, and two ships are visible at sea in the background. The caption below reads, “John Bull stung to agony by the Wasp and the Hornet.”
The man is “John Bull,” the personification of Great Britain, and his uniform is hand-painted in scarlet. The “Wasp” and the “Hornet” refer to American ships that won victories over Britain early in the War of 1812. USS Wasp defeated HMS Frolic on October 15, 1812, and USS Hornet sunk HMS Peacock on February 24, 1813.
The first insect says, “You’ll bridge the Atlantic, won’t you? Oh then you’ll have a Bane to your Bridge, friend Johnny.” The use of “Bane” and “Bridge” refers to William Bainbridge, who was captain of USS Constitution when it captured HMS Java on December 29, 1812.
John Bull replies, “Are these your Wasps and Hornets! Oh! I’m Hull’d already!!” “Hull” was Isaac Hull, who commanded USS Constitution during an earlier cruise when it defeated HMS Guerrière on August 19, 1812.
The second insect says, “How comes on your Copper-bottom at Bombay? Here is something for you between Wind and Water.” “Copper-bottom at Bombay” appears to be a taunt. When the Constitution defeated and then destroyed the Java off the coast of Brazil, the Royal Navy frigate was transporting the new commander-in-chief of British forces in India, Sir Thomas Hislop, to Bombay, along with copper to sheath the hull of a new 74-gun ship. Copper sheathing prevented a ship from being slowed by marine growth on its hull over the course of a long voyage. The loss of the Java and its cargo of copper delayed the completion of HMS Cornwallis.
“Between Wind and Water” denotes the way sailing ships engaged in battle. They aimed their cannons for the opponent vessel’s waterline, to “hull” it. A hit there was likely to do the most damage because a ship’s waterline rose and fell as wind and waves rocked the ship. But it also works as a double entendre, with the insect stinging John Bull between where he created “wind” and “water – as does the word “Bombay.”
Although this broadside has no inscription, due to the timely nature of its content it likely was printed in March or April of 1813, soon after the Hornet returned from its victory over the Peacock off of the coast of Guyana. The Hornet anchored at Holmes’ Hole in Martha’s Vineyard on March 19, 1813.
Some of the jokes hidden inside this broadside we will likely never know, but a little bit of context provides insight not just into the events of the war but also into what made Americans laugh in 1813, when the pun was the epitome of wit.
To see more documents from the Society's collections related to the war, as well as more information about our upcoming exhibition and other planned events in the Boston area, please visit our War of 1812 web feature.
| Published: Wednesday, 9 May, 2012, 8:00 AM
Explore the World of Marian Hooper Adams
Have you had a chance to visit our current exhibition A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams, 1883-1885? Hundreds of visitors have visited 1154 Boylston Street to view this stunning exhibition featuring the late-19th-century photographs of Marian Hooper Adams, whom family and friends called Clover. Read what some of them had to say about the exhibition:
“Clover Adams … you instantly fall in love with her”
“A very interesting and revealing installation”
“The written text made the exhibition come to life”
Not planning on visiting Boston in the near future? You do not have to miss out entirely. Clover's photographs can be viewed by a wider audience via our web feature, Marian Hooper Adams: Selected Photographs and Letters. The website presents 48 photographs (one entire album) from the Marian Hooper Adams photograph collection, five selected letters from the Hooper-Adams papers, and two letters by Henry Adams in which he reflects on his wife's death.
The website also provides information about Clover's approach to photography by presenting a digital facsimile of a notebook Clover kept from May 1883 to January 1884 in which she listed many of her photographs and commented on exposures, lighting, and other technical details. The display of the notebook includes a transcription of the text provided by Natalie Dykstra, the guest curator for our current exhibition.
The exhibition runs through 2 June 2012 and is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The web feature is available through our website 24 hours a day and will remain online after the exhibition closes.
If you want to learn even more about the life of Clover Adams, look for Natalie Dykstra's new book Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), which offers a full-length biography of the woman behind the camera.
| Published: Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 8:00 AM