Wednesday, September 30, 2009

101 Ways, Part 103: Was Suffocated

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I've been experimenting with mirrors for those occasions when the light isn't right for a particular stone. Unfortunately, the full-length mirror is too heavy and the hand-held only lights up a line at a time. I'm working on it.

I have not been able to find any information on the schooner Globe. I'm assuming that it sank, but have not been able to find it in the newspapers. Then again, the the odd language (suffocated vs. drowned) and the fact that no Massachusetts newspaper reported the loss of this ship in 1841 or 1842 (as far as I can tell) suggests it might have been a stranger incident. No idea.

In Memory of
Son of Mr. Eli &
Mrs. Clarissa Curtis
who was suffocated in the
cabin of the schooner
Globe Feb. 18 1841,
AEt. 21 Years.

Scituate, MA

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Harbor View

As I stood on Burial Hill in Plymouth the other day, it occurred to me that this hill would have offered the best vantage point for viewing the harbor before the trees got so tall. The Pilgrims built their first fort on this site in 1621 and I can only imagine that they chose it for the harbor view. They probably cleared nearby trees for materials and visibility.

If 18th- and 19th-century residents of Plymouth wanted to watch ships depart, they probably stood here, among the gravestones. What an auspicious beginning for Plymouth seamen's voyages.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Generation Gap?

I am utterly mystified by the coverage of Jenny Slate's debut on Saturday Night live. Apparently, during a skit in which she played a "foul-mouthed hard-core biker chick," Slate slipped up and uttered what the pearl-clutching media is delicately calling an "F-bomb."

Gasping ensues. Will she be fired? Will she go into an unstoppable spiral and commit suicide? Will we ever forgive her? When will those naughty writers learn to be civil? Will NBC have to pay outrageous fines?

Give me a break. For the life of me, I cannot understand why an adult saying "fuckin'" in its most innocent, adverbial form at 1 in the morning deserves any notice whatsoever. Neither I nor any of my fellow Millenials would bat an eye at hearing this usage in normal conversation. It's not like she was testifying in front of congress — it was a skit called "Biker Chick Chat."

Name of the Day

I came across this gravestone in Marshfield, MA. While Googling the name Welthea, I misspelled it and found another version: Wealthea. Ex: Wealthea Margaret Buffington Swab.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Elaborate Urn

Sometimes, the urns on 19th-century gravestones are embellished with delicate details — initials, fronds, garlands, and, very rarely, soul effigies.

This teeny, vestigial soul effigy is about an inch tall. It is very rare to find soul effigies on gravestones carved after 1820 unless the carver was specifically trying to replicate an outdated style.

Capt. Atwood Drew
d. 1823
Plymouth, MA

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cemetery News

In New Haven, CT, preservationists are opposing a proposal to alter the sandstone wall surrounding the Grove Street Cemetery.

While I'm not 100% clear on the details, it seems that Yale wants fences put into the wall to make the sidewalks near its new residential colleges more friendly. Preservationists argue that the changes would destroy the integrity of the wall and (implicitly) that they have no interest in cooperating with a university that shows precious little respect for inconvenient historic structures that stand in its path.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Salem Witch Trial Memorial

I meant to post this on Tuesday, but it slipped my mind. I take comfort in the fact that the Gregorian shift makes any "anniversary" celebrations for events occurring before 1752 imprecise anyway.

On September 22, 1692, eight people (seven women and one man) were hanged for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. These eight were the last of the accused to be executed in the crisis.

A few weeks ago, Pete and I found ourselves in Salem and decided to visit the burying ground. Despite having been born in Beverly and having visited Salem dozens of times over the past 25 years, I have never visited the Salem burying ground before. It feels indecent somehow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Watson's Corner Casualties

Three of the men who were killed at Watson's Corner on April 19, 1775 are buried beneath this monument in the Old Burying Ground between Harvard Square and Cambridge Common. The fourth casualty, Isaac Gardner, is buried in Brookline.

A.D. 1870
APRIL 19, 1775.

Happy Autumn

Pete and I spent the weekend at a wedding in the Catskills, which gave us an excellent opportunity to appreciate the turn of the season. If I had my way, it would be October all year long.

Pete says that I am biased because I have an October birthday, which may be true. Still, I love everything about autumn – the smell of leaves, the crisp air, the quality of the light.

I'm looking forward to spending the next few weeks traveling to graveyards after having been confined all summer.

Minnie Maria Gorton, d. 1853
Providence, RI
photo taken October 15, 2008

Friday, September 18, 2009

Watson's Corner

I live in an area of Cambridge that used to be called "Watson's Corner." There's an historical marker near my house that tells the story of four local men who were killed by retreating British soldiers after Lexington and Concord.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

101 Ways, Part 102: Was Taken By Death From His Mother's Breasts

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

Well, I have exhausted the original scope of the series, but not the synonyms for "died." I suppose I'll just keep on going.

 Jonathan Woods
Pepperell, MA
Here lies the remains
of a pleasant babe,
Jonathan the Son of
Mr. Isaac and Mrs. Mary
Woods who was taken by death from
his mother's breasts,
Octo. 10th 1769 aged
6 months 3 days.

Monday, September 14, 2009

101 Ways, Part 101: I Am Only Going Into Another Room

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
Here we are. More than a year after I started documenting the many synonyms for "died" carved on New England gravestones, I've reached 101. I was holding out for one that said "The End" or something similar, but, as yet, I've had no success in finding one.

Thanks to Emily G. for sending me this lovely example from Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. I don't know the year or the deceased's last name, but it looks to be a mid-19th-century stone. Under the name, James, it says, "I AM ONLY GOING INTO ANOTHER ROOM."

Although I've reached 101, I still have a few more examples to post. I'm sure that I'll continue to find more over the coming years — perhaps I can drop some of the earlier entries that are similar to one another (i.e. "killed by a cart" vs. "killed by a wagon").

One thing I've never seen on a pre-1850 gravestone: "Passed Away."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"For Boy or Girl"

After writing that post about telling boys from girls in 19th-century photographs, I came across this ad in a 1904 issue of The Youth's Companion.

The Siegel Cooper Co. of New York sold unisex children's clothing under the headline, "FOR BOY OR GIRL." The photographs give few clues as to the gender of the models.

The ad reads,
These two Special numbers are exceptional values in Children's wear. On for "every day," neat and serviceable. The other for "best," but also serviceable. Order one of each and see the value for yourself. Your money refunded if you are not perfectly satisfied.
Larger pics below the fold.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How Much Did Gravestones Cost?

This is one of those basic factual questions that should be relatively easy to answer, but isn't. I have a few data points from different times, workshops, and styles of stone that suggest that the answer is, unsurprisingly, "it depends."

The records of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI provide some of the best information. During the 1730s, the Stevens shop charged £12-15 for a table-like "Tomb Stone," £1-3 for pairs of upright gravestones, and 2 pence per letter for inscriptions.

Thus, the heirs of Captain William Wanton paid £17, 5 shillings, and 6 pence for his elaborate tombstone on December 24, 1733 — £15 for the stone and the rest for 273 letters.* A year earlier, Samuel Lindon paid £3, 8 shillings, and 4 pence for a pair of gravestones with a 40-letter epitaph "for Priscilla."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cow and Tubas

Today, Prof. Harvey Cox celebrated his retirement with a Jersey cow and an all-tuba brass ensemble. The story is getting some press coverage.

The cow was very calm, even with a hundred people crowded around.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Names of Colonial New England Residents Appearing on This Blog That Make Dangerous Google Searches

(Those links bring you to pictures of gravestones, fyi.)

Father of All Living

In Good Wives, Laurel Ulrich writes about colonial New England women's role as Eve, Mother of All Living. In that chapter, she argues that the fulfillment of a woman's role as mother came when she saw her children's children flourish.

I have found several references to women's abundant fecundity and matriarchal achievements on their gravestones, the most notable example being the Lois Cook Bartlett stone in Brunswick, ME.

On occasion, I also find this theme on men's gravestones (see Daniel Tyler, Brooklyn, CT). My most recent addition to this collection is the Elijah Shattuck stone in Pepperell, MA.
OCT. 30, 1841,
AE. 88.
He was the father of
8 Children,
13 Grandchildren
& 33 Great Grand

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not the most elegant of state seals. Most state seals are cluttered and Massachusetts' is cleaner than some (I'm looking at you, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Hawaii), but it still has a lot going on. There's no harmony between the elements: a random star, an out-of-proportion arm floating vaguely above the shield, and a wordy, counterclockwise banner surrounded by clockwise Latin outer ring.* At least Massachusetts' seal only uses four colors — Montanans and Californians need the big box of Crayolas.**

Massachusetts' seal features several elements:
a shield having a blue field or surface with an Indian thereon, dressed in a shirt and moccasins, holding in his right hand a bow, and in his left hand an arrow, point downward, all of gold; and, in the upper corner of the field, above his right arm, a silver star with five points. The crest is a wreath of blue and gold, on which in gold is a right arm, bent at the elbow, clothed and ruffled, with the hand grasping a broadsword.
The motto, "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" ("By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty") was written by Algernon Sidney, presumably sometime before he was executed for treason.

My favorite part of the seal has always been the disembodied arm swinging the sword. There's a Massachusetts monument at Gettysburg that has an arm rising out of the top — when I was a child, it always made me think of zombies.

According to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the sword was first added to the seal in 1775, but it doesn't seem to have become disembodied until at least 1780. Yet, we find it on the Benjamin Chamberlin gravestone in Pepperell, MA (dated 1778):

There are a few possibilities here:
  • the arm and sword motif may have been circulating in Massachusetts before Nathan Cushing designed the seal in 1780
  • the Benjamin Chamberlin stone may have been carved after 1780
Has anyone seen the arm and sword on an object that can be positively dated pre-1780? If not, the second possibility seems more likely. It might help me determine how long it took for communities to erect gravestones for men who died far from home during the Revolution.
Is Erected in Memory of
Mr. Benjamin Chamberlin
who departed this Life
in the Continental Army
at Valleyforge in the
year 1778; In ye 17th
year of his Age.
He was ye Son of Mr. Phineas Chamberlin
and Mrs. Lydia his wife.

*I say this, of course, with the caveat that I know nothing about heraldry. It may fit the conventions very nicely, but I still think it's ugly.
**The best state seals (in no particular order): Rhode Island, Texas, Louisiana. Mississippi would be a contender if they hadn't just lifted their design from the US seal.

My Cat is Famous on the Internet, Part II

I promise I will get back to regular gravestone posting soon. It's been pretty crazy around here this first week of classes.

In the meantime, I direct you to this weekend's crop of LOLcats, featuring a certain kitteh.

You may recognize this picture from this post, featuring a hungry cat, a sunny window, and Pete's birthday flowers.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Law and Order: Seventeenth Century

Today's New York Times has a strange little article about "New York's Coldest Case" — the murder of John Colman on September 6, 1609.

The author has some fun with the case, interviewing modern detectives as well as historians. They determine that local Native Americans probably killed Colman, possibly in retaliation for earlier attacks, though it is also possible that he was murdered by a fellow crew member.

It's a fluffy piece, but one line stood out for me. One historian, Kathleen Husler, unhelpfully describes the mixed Dutch/English crew involved in the incident as "a typical blend of sociopaths and working men." Is it a well-known fact that sailors were often sociopaths? The choppiness of the article makes it difficult to decipher exactly what Husler meant, but I think historians are generally on shaky ground when they try to diagnose historical actors with mental illness in order to explain their behavior. Perhaps she just meant that sailors were a violent and unruly lot, which they certainly were. But even in a fun little throwaway interview, it seems unproductive to characterize their behavior as antisocial and abnormal, rather than appropriate to their situation and worldview.

Friday, September 4, 2009

AP Redefines "Ancient"

I was pretty excited when I saw this AP headline: "Ancient Skeleton Found in Cambridge." Was it a Native American burial site? A lost 17th-century burying ground? Proof that Vikings sailed up the Charles?

Sadly, none of those things. According to the AP, the "ancient" skeleton is "about 100 years old."

Boo. I'm not sure I'd refer to anything that dates from the late 19th/early 20th century as "ancient," unless, perhaps, it was something with a very short shelf life. I suppose if I found a 100-year-old muffin, I might call it "ancient."


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hollis Professor to Graze Cow on Harvard Yard


At Harvard, the most distinguished professors are awarded the status of "University Professor." Among the honors and regalia bestowed by this rank are several special privileges: they may carry swords to class, collect firewood on the yard, and graze cows there.

One week from today, University Professor Harvey Cox will celebrate his retirement by exercising his right to graze a cow on Harvard Yard.

I will be there with my camera.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Urban Crucible in 247 Pages

Are you aware that there is an abridged edition of Gary Nash's The Urban Crucible?!?

Someone could have told me this 600 pages ago.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Depated #11

Another depated stone! See #1-10 here.
Josiah Fisk
Pepperell, MA
The righteous
hath Hope in his Death
On the Evening
of ye 27th of Oct. 1778
with great composure &
Tranquility of mind
depa[r]ted this Life in
Hopes of a better AEt. 74.
Be ye Followers of them
who now are
thro Faith & Patience
inheriting the Promises.

Happy SepmYbre!

An unfortunate combination of spacing issues and superscripts gives us this mish-mash of a month:
Tryphena Woods
d. 1756
Pepperell, MA