Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Frozen 2: When Togo Came to Town


Yesterday was a snow day and the kids made a very "cool" snow dog.

This sculptural snow pairs well with our collection of winter related books in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. That collection forms the basis of our popular outreach programs on winter traditions, polar explorers and especially dog sledding in the Mount Washington Valley.  For more on our collection see our previous blog here.

As we sled into the new year, we watched Disney's new film Togo: The Untold True Story.

While the film has been acclaimed for its accuracy, (see History vs Hollywood comparisons here) it is a bit of an exaggeration to say it is an "untold" story. It has in fact been told a number of times. It is the story of the famous 1925 serum run in Alaska.

In the movie, Willem Dafoe plays Togo's master Leonhard Seppala.  We have a copy of Elizabeth Ricker's 1930 biography of Seppala that also includes a lot of info on Togo.

Many of the incidents in the film are detailed in this book. While we do not have a copy of it in the collection (yet?) my favorite version of the Togo story is Togo's Fireside Reflections published in 1928. There are only five copies of it listed in worldcat. I went to Bowdoin to read it.

This is the story straight from the dog's mouth. Here is the real Togo telling his own story in first person narrative by the fireside. (Ok, perhaps he had a bit of help from Ricker as "ghost writer").

Note the inscriptions by Ricker and Seppala and Togo's paw print in this copy.

We were somewhat disappointed by the Disney film's ending. While the film is a true story it doesn't tell the whole story. The film uses captions as an epilogue that ends Togo's tale with the phrase "He left us on a Thursday in December." The montage of images and text makes it seem like Togo stayed in Alaska, sired a few pups and then died soon after the 1925 serum race. 

It is true that Togo passed on a Thursday in December, but is was four years later and about 3,700 miles away in Poland Spring Maine. Over the years Seppala made many visits to the Mount Washington Valley.

Ricker's family owned the Poland Springs Resort. Here is a picture of Togo and Ricker with the book in her hand. 

Is Ricker reading to Togo, or Togo reading to Ricker?

Details about Seppala's connections to the Mount Washington Valley can be found through our online collection of the Reporter Newspaper starting here.

A search for the term "Seppala" or "Togo" reveals a number of references to nearby locations such as Wonalancet, Conway and Laconia.  The newspaper articles also refer to our own local sled dog heroes Arthur Walden and Chinook. When we put together the books, newspaper articles and other sources we can glean a number of interesting stories.

One story involves a pair of cigars, a chicken, a somersault and a handspring.

The website summarizes the story here

In January 1927 Seppala stayed as a guest at Walden's farm in Wonalancet with his 26 dogs. Walden didn’t think too much of Seppala’s little dogs. He referred to them as “Siberian rats.” Seppala, for his part, seemed equally unimpressed with what he later referred to as Walden’s “big, awkward mongrels."

That evening they were to speak at Fryeburg Academy. Seppala reported that "Walden preceded me and proved to be a good speaker. When it came my turn, I spoke of the trails back in Alaska and explained that although I was 50 years of age, my physical condition was excellent and stated that I attributed this largely to my abstinence from alcohol and tobacco."

"To demonstrate my agility, I turned a somersault and handspring, and while doing this, two cigars, which I had won from Walden in a bet, rolled out on the floor. The audience let out a roar and gave us a great hand. They evidently considered it all a part of the show."

How I came to have the cigars in my pocket is something of a story in itself. A short time before this, Walden had bragged that his Chinook would break out and pull a heavier load than any dog in the country. I had watched his dogs perform and answered with a challenge that my Togo, who weighed only 48 pounds in harness, could pull any load that Walden’s Chinook could. Although neither of us smoked, we bet two cigars on the result.

Seppala challenged Walden that Togo (whose weight was then a mere 48 pounds in harness) could break out and pull any load that Chinook (100 pounds in fit condition) could pull.

The sled was loaded with several sacks of cement onto which Walden hooked his dog. Chinook could not even start the load until Walden had kicked the runners loose from the snow.

I knew that Togo could do better but felt that here was an opportunity to inject a little comedy into the act. Kingiak, my Eskimo helper, hid one of Walden’s farm chickens under his parka and stepped out ahead of Togo a distance of 20 feet or so. On my command, Togo leaped to one side with his full weight straining against the collar, then another leap to the left and the sled runners were loosened. Just then Kingiak let the chicken clap his wings and Togo was upon him in a couple of jumps with a loaded sled following easily behind.

Walden was a good sport and conceded that Togo had won the cigars for me. And that, as I intimated, was how I happened to have the cigars on me when we spoke before the audience at the Fryeburg Academy.”

Like Ricker, Walden also penned a book written from a dog's first person perspective. In his 1931 book, Leading A Dog's Life, a  border collie named Shirley narrates a history of Wonalancet Farm and relates more interesting stories.

Another great book to follow the tale (or tail) of local connections is Arthur Walden's A Dog-Puncher on the Yukon from 1928. 

In 1896 Walden, age 24, left New Hampshire for the Yukon and stayed six years. Jack London left the following year and stayed for only nine months.

We have a nice early edition of Jack London's The Call of the Wild. first published in 1903.

The book was first made into a film in 1935 and the theme continues to resonate today...

A new ninth film adaption of Jack London's The Call of the Wild starring Harrison Ford and a CGI dog will premiere on Friday, February 21, 2020.

The following day you can meet some real sled dogs and learn about New Hampshire's State Dog at the 25th anniversary Chinook Winter Carnival to be held at the Tamworth History Center.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Our First (and most recent) Christmas Tree

We received an early Christmas gift today at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. An envelope arrived from Boothbay Harbor Maine with the donation of a fantastic photo album from around 1910. It is full of vacation type photos showing the Conway ledges, Lucy Farm, Saco River and so on. Also included were a couple very rare photos of an early local Christmas Tree.

Recently the Conway Historical Society restarted a new tradition in the Old Firehouse on Main Street with a new Christmas Tree decorated in an older more traditional manner.

Wooden blocks spell out Merry Christmas.

An older style Santa and traditional toys are displayed - and ornaments that tell a special story full of meaning were explained and added to the tree to be recorded and hung year after year - a blending of the old and new.

As part of the program, I related the story of the first Christmas Tree in the Mount Washington Valley "neighborhood" as originally told by Lady Blanche Murphy from the late 1800's. The tale is written in a biography of her in the History Room.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Monday, December 9, 2019

OK, Now Tis the Season!

Get ready to celebrate! I heard today is "Green Monday" another big day for holiday shopping. That was news to me. So I thought it appropriate to post this traditional holiday image.

Ah! The traditional red and green of Christmas. .. at least in the subtropics where I was born and raised.

Our snow came out of a spray can.

Our fireplace was made out of cardboard

In the South, we claimed Christmas for our own, after all y'all banned it for many years.

Public notice from Boston 1659

While controversial, Florida's history of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas has been documented back to the 16th century, well before the Pilgrims landed or St. Nick visited New York.

Whatever the history, the fact is that New England started appropriating Thanksgiving and Christmas in the early nineteenth century. As we now claim New England as our home, we have learned enough about local winter traditions to offer an outreach program for school and community groups. Through this program you can learn about local ice harvesting, snow rollers, NH snowmobiles, sled dogs, and polar explorers.

One fact documented in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room collection was the practice of "snowing" the covered bridges.

They actually shoveled snow onto the wooden bridges so that horse drawn sleighs could cross.

The story of the area's first Christmas tree was told by Lady Blanche Murphy. You can actually read about it here.

So grab a seasonally appropriate book, sit back, relax and chill like Santa on the sand!

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Tis not the Season... Yet!

While the recently forecasted snow was a false alarm for us, its early announcement fits a growing trend. Of course, we know winter is coming, but it seems like every year we "jump the gun" on the season earlier and earlier. I used to joke that we would see Christmas decorations out before Halloween and now that is the norm.

Black Friday used to be the day after Thanksgiving, still three weeks away, and astronomical winter is weeks away from that. For more on the mathematical reason for the seasons see this previous blog.

The past few issues of the Conway Daily Sun and ads on television promote "early access" to Black Friday before Veterans Day. Some commercials declare that it is now "Black Friday Month!" An ad in today's paper announced 2-Day “door busters” this weekend for Veterans Day with a focus on Christmas decorations. Another ad shows discounted Halloween candy and a sale on holiday versions of Mickey Mouse and Snoopy.

I must admit though that I am a victim of this early season syndrome myself. I found myself humming holiday tunes today. So to fit in we recently installed a new "Winter in the Whites" display near the front entrance at the Conway Public Library - a display of local history to help you get you in the mood and hint at the resources we have in the Henney History Room in case you want to explore more.

Do you remember the skimobile at Cranmore?

Why would we display these items about  Byrd, Greely and Chinook? Did you know the Mountain Washington Valley has deep connections to polar explorers? We offer a free outreach program on this topic for local schools and community groups. 

Conway's first winter carnival was held in 1922. More about this event can be seen through our online collection of the Reporter news at this link here.

A number of the images in this display are from the newspaper.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Spirits of the Season

Happy Halloween 

This blog is a follow up from a recent, well attended, program on Haunted Hikes in New Hampshire and Maine at the Conway Public Library presented by author Marianne O’Connor. She gave a great program illustrated with spooky audio and visual effects. She also kindly donated a brand new copy of the 2nd edition of her book to the library.  

Inspired by her presentation, I went into the catacombs of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room cellar and dug out some items to share with you this Halloween night on four of her many stories and hikes about Nancy, Willey, Devil's Den, and Chocorua.  

The Nancy Story 

Thomas Cole was one of the first people to illustrate the site of the Nancy tragedy in 1828. The original sketches can be found in the Detroit Institute of Arts at this link. He also wrote out the story in his journal. 

In 1848, William Oakes included the story in his book, Scenery of the White Mountains

Some of the prints were hand colored. 

The original drawing used to make the print is at the Currier Museum and can be seen here.

That story is certainly enough to give one the "willies." In fact some say that term comes from a historical event that happened in New Hampshire. See this link here.

The Willey Slide

This painting by Charles Codman on display at the Conway Public Library is a fairly accurate depiction of the site where the Willey Slide occured. This view has often been confused with another much more famous painting in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art. For more on this "landscape of terror" see one of our previous blogs here.  

Devil's Den

The large rocks at the bottom of this painting by Thomas Hill now at the New Hampshire Historical Society formed a cave like feature known as Devil's Den below the cathedral cave on Cathedral Ledge in Conway. For more information on the painting see this link. The Devil's Den was a popular tourist attraction in the 19th century and was promoted in guide books for the area.

Asher B. Durand did two paintings showing the Devil's Den. One can be found at the Albany Institute here and in a private collection here. It was also featured in stereo views when Cathedral Ledge was known as Hart's Ledge. See these links here and here.

The Curse of Chocorua

Our final story for tonight is the legend of Chocorua. This also fascinated Thomas Cole when he was a young romantic. He did a number of sketches to prepare for a now lost painting known only today from this print. The sketches can be seen at this link. Like the Nancy story he also wrote out the legend of Chocorua in his journal.

For the relationship of this painting with Conway see this blog here.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Clues in the Clapboards

Just down Main Street from the Conway Public Library is the Eastman Lord House, part of the Conway Historical Society.

From archival records we know that the earliest section of the house was built in 1818 and then it was added to and expanded over the years. This is one of the buildings we focus on we we do free outreach walking and driving tours of Conway and the Mount Washington Valley.

Recently, two sections of it were scraped in preparation for repainting it. While the main purpose is to protect the building and present a pleasing appearance for potential visitors, the project also exposed some interesting physical evidence that helps us better understand the story of the Eastman Lord House.

The clues are in the clapboards. After the paint was scraped off, a close observation revealed that clapboards were joined together in two different ways.

The section on the right with the door and the bay window facing south towards Main Street is joined with butt joints where two flat surfaces meet together with no overlap.

The section on the left (with no door) facing east towards the Sweet Maple Cafe using the older style feathered joint where the boards are tapered and overlap to create a more weather tight joint.

According to James Garvin’s book A Building History of Northern New England, pp. 32-34, “It was an almost universal practice of carpenters until well into the nineteenth century to skive and lap the ends of clapboards in order to provide a weatherproof joint. By 1830 or so, this technique was abandoned in favor of simple butt joints at the ends of clapboards,”

You can see this reference online here. Or you can check this book out from the Conway Public Library here at this link.  

Here is the building with the primer on and drying for the next coat of paint hiding the history we could only see for a fleeting moment.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Five Guys and a Mountain

One-hundred sixty five years ago today...

... five guys stopped by the side of a road to sketch Chocorua Lake and Mountain. The sketch is now at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City. See this link for more info. You can also read about it in a book at the Conway Public Library. See this link.

Here is the site today. The barn was moved back away from busy Route 16 only a few years ago. In this photograph you can see part of the original foundation of the barn to the right of the photo.

For more on this view, the stone walls and surrounding fields see our previous blog here. The Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library offers a free outreach program to local schools and community groups on this view and its history. For a somewhat different perspective on this view and how it has been preserved see this blog here.

A detail of the sketch shows four of the five artists (click on images to enlarge them).

This sketch is inscribed at the lower right "chicorua pond Sep 28./54" for September 28, 1854. Notice the spelling of Chocorua as chicorua. Directly below each of the figures are their names. Reading from left to right they are Edwards, Dodge, Ordway and Champney.

These would be Thomas Edwards (1795-1856), John Wood Dodge (1807-1893), Alfred Ordway (1819-1897) and Benjamin Champney (1817-1907).  

The fifth artist is Daniel Huntington (1816-1906) who is "off camera" sketching the other four. So we see the scene through his eyes. The Cooper Hewitt Museum has a number of other sketches from that same trip that we will explore in future blogs.  

While Huntington's sketch is quite accurate, an oil painting said to have resulted from this sketching trip is very fanciful.

For more on this painting now in the collection of the New York Historical Society see this link

We can also look through the eyes of the artist Benjamin Champney depicted at the very right of the sketch. A few years ago, the New Hampshire Historical Society acquired a large collection of sketches by Champney that included a number of sketches done that same day.

It may be possible that this is the sketch that Champney was sketching when Huntington was sketching him. For more information on this sketch see this link.

We know from another sketch in the collection that Champney went down to the edge of the lake that same day and made this sketch.

Here you can see the mountain peaks from right to left: Paugus, Passaconway, Wonalancet and Whiteface. For more information on this sketch see this link.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.