Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Crimson Wing

Breaking news of March 1916, One hundred years ago this month.
(click on the images to enlarge them).

“Next Monday’s program at Masonic Hall will rival in interest any previously shown.” This is how the silent film “The Crimson Wing” was promoted in the first column on the front page of Conway's Thursday, March 2, 1916 edition of the Reporter newspaper.
The article made the point that while it is a thrilling six-act photo-drama of war and has several hundred feet of film taken in France on the border line of Germany showing the French army in maneuvers “it is strictly neutral, taking sides with no faction. The climax is a touching love scene, uniting a man and a women of opposing nations.”
This is how Conway and the nation seems to have wanted to see the building conflict one hundred years ago this month, with America as neutral and the end result peace and love.
The article goes on to say “The drama is presented in a manner that not only gives offense to none, but makes the heart go out in sympathy to all the battling nations and yearn for a permanent peace.”
By the beginning of March 1916,German Zeppelins had conducted air raids over England, U-boats had set a blockade of Great Britain and sank the Lusitania, where 1,198 civilians including 128 Americans died, and the nine-month long battle of Gallipoli had begun, poison gas had been used, and the war was well, well entrenched. In February 1916, the Battle of Verdun had begun. It will prove to be the longest battle of the war and cause an estimated one million casualties. Ironically, in November 1916, Woodrow Wilson will be re-elected President of the United States with the campaign slogan: “He kept us out of the war” only to have him ask Congress to join the war in April 1917.  
With this larger picture (and a bit of the past’s future) in mind, here is some of the news from the Conway NH home front during March 1916, one hundred years ago.
Next to the article/advertisement on the film, The Crimson Wing, was the Conway Town Warrant to see what sum of money the town would vote for the library, snowing bridges, and to "see of the town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of seventy-five dollars ($75.00) to be paid Custer Post, G.A.R., for Memorial Day, May 30, 1916."

Note: the silk flag and record book of the Custer Post are preserved at the Conway Public Library

There was a reference to German spies in Glen and/or Jackson and the ad above noted the price of paper was going to go up due to the war.

Interestingly, there was more printed in March 1916 about the Civil War than what we have come to know as World War One. The paper included J. F. Robinson’s recollections of the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. This was the first battle of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's 1864 Virginia Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War.

Throughout the month there were more details on cows and cribbage than the war. There were more column inches and ink dedicated to clearing stones out of farm fields than coverage of battlefields
The longest article related to the war was about the words of war, those clever new terms created by soldiers such as pip-squeaks, gasper, lead swinger, and dickey scrapings. In a bit of gallows type humor, they define the military base as “a place where troops are kept until they are so fed up that they do not mind getting killed.”
For what ever reason, practical or political, the war raging in Europe was not on the forefront of Conway’s home front, at least not yet, but it will ...


Friday, March 18, 2016

The Sands of Time

While carefully unfolding letters in our Samuel A. Bemis collection, archivist Craig Evans noticed some grains of sand falling onto the table. Had someone with filthy hands handled the papers before they were packed away over a hundred years ago?

Or had this “contamination” happened more recently, perhaps when a volunteer or visitor was working with the collection? We try to keep a pretty ship-shape, clean, if not sterile, environment in the archives of the Henney History Room, so we were surprised to find this dirt.

Craig noticed that the sand seemed to be especially prominent near the hand-written signatures and deduced that this was in fact writing sand or “pounce” used to smooth un-sized paper and dry the ink in these pre-ballpoint and digital days of yore.

Long ago and far away, I once drove from Indiana to Connecticut and spent a substantial sum of another museum’s money to purchase a small found cardboard box full of sand. While that might sound crazy, it was in fact commercially produced writing sand, and actually a quite rare surviving example of what was once a common item.

 In some cases, the sand was actually powdered cuttlefish bone or gum sandarac made from the resin of a small cypress-like tree native to Morocco.

This special writing sand was used in a pounce pot or caster that looked like a salt or pepper shaker. Made from wood, tin, pewter, silver, glass, ceramics, or ivory these were often sold together with an ink well, candle holder and tray as a complete desk set.  

Notice that the sand caster (the one with many small holes) has a round shallow dish on it’s top so that any unused pounce or sand could be returned to the pot and reused. Although blotting paper had been available since Tudor times, pounce or sand continued to be used throughout the nineteenth century because it was often cheaper.

Small sand casters and jars of sand were also included as part of portable wooden desks that opened up for writing and closed for travel. This would be somewhat equivalent to today’s ipad.

During the time, the pens were made from bird feathers. A quill pen can be seen on the top of the Conway Public Library’s weathervane. The ink was often iron gall, made from blisters on oak trees made by a wasp. Weird huh? 
All this hidden history of the writing process can be examined even before one reads a single word scribbled in tiny, hard-to-decipher, cursive letters in the Bemis papers providing an interesting context to the text itself.

Other fascinating aspects of the Bemis collection include the types of paper used (woven or laid, with watermarks) and colors used made of pigments and grounds made from plants, rocks, insects (red was often crushed up beetles), and binders of oil, water or egg yolk (tempera).

To learn more comment us, or better yet, visit us at the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room and see for yourself.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy Pi Day!

Coming close on the heels of Daylight Saving Day, today is round pi day, the day when we celebrate the mathematical constant of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159. Rounded up that is today’s date 3/14/16 (but I thought pie are square?)
Hearing that I have an immediate Pavlovian response. Growing up in the south we had pies like pecan, buttermilk, key lime, shoo-fly, smoked mullet, swamp cabbage and sweet potato so it seemed very odd to me to hear of flannel-wearing yankees eating dried Northern Spy apple pie with extra sharp cheddar cheese for breakfast instead of grits.


So I turn to the cookbook section in the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room to learn more (Dewey 641). Here can be found Country Flavor Cookbook by Hadyn Pearson. While his apple pie recipe can be found on p. 85 (following an essay on fence mending in May) the secret to how to eat apple pie is hidden in his section on red flannel hash p. 167. Click on the picture to read the answer.


Spring is coming so you may want to read up on rhubarb pie too while you are at it.


Pearson wrote a number of books celebrating history and country life in New England. His book properly starts off with desert, cookies and cakes, pies and puddings -- and then goes back to stews, soups and chowders and on through a miscellany of a little bit of everything.

Sandwiched in between the recipes are brief essays on such varied topics as rocking chairs, fall colors, grist mills, the country telephone, box suppers, the seed catalogues, peepers in the spring, etc.etc.

Coincidentally, today is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. Speaking of farm related trivia, did you know that  Pythagoras hated beans. He supposedly forbade his followers from eating them, or even touching them. His dislike of legumes may have led to his death. According to legend, when attackers ambushed him, he refused to escape by running through a bean field.
And remember ....

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Happy Daylight Saving Time Day

The Conway Public Library’s magnificent clock tower provides insight into today’s annual time marking event to “spring” ahead.  Thoreau said “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in”  but how has it been shaped to serve our purposes?


To avoid pandemonium, come Monday morning hopefully we will have adjusted our wrist watch, alarm clock, automobile clocks, cell phone, computer clock, microwave and DVD player displays, etc. While some of these reset automatically, some do not. In some cases, we might even add 10 to 15 minutes to fool ourselves to think we are late in our morning blur, so we are not actually late to work.
Nestled quietly below the base of the library clock tower, the archives in the Henney History Room sheds light and a deeper understanding on this event. Census, tax, receipts, and other written records put specific names to the farmers who used to rise before the sun to take advantage of natural light. While it was in their name that many people believe that we developed daylight saving time, history tells us that it was more the influence of the city people, the railroad developers, and especially the cigar stores and the military that prompted its acceptance.
If you want to know more about your ancestors and the kind of work they did, (farmer, merchant, manufacturer) you can check out our genealogical databases. Our local tax assessments included more details such as what kind of livestock they raised and if they owned an automobile and if so, what kind.  
Our clock tower represents a transition in the marking of time. It is a community clock complete with a bell and weathervane that used to announce the time and coming weather to those on their way to one of the many factories in the village and to those working in the surrounding fields at a time when few carried their own watches.

The awareness of this community technology was quite a surprising revelation to a number of recent school groups who recently visited the Conway Public Library for a special environmental perspective on history. Our colorful Sanborn insurance maps showed the location of watch and clock repair shops and our newspaper collections showed ads for stores selling watches and the key role they used to play as significant holiday gifts.

Daylight saving time also ties into our ongoing research about the “homefront” in Conway during World War One. The practice is identified in the Wall Street Journal’s series on 100 years, 100 legacies from World War 1 that continue to shape our lives today.

There was poster propaganda effort supported by the United Cigar Stores Company to promote the practice.






… that may be due to the improper phrasing of the message.
While many people render the term’s second word in its plural form, since the word “saving” acts as part of an adjective rather than a verb, the singular is correct.

So please be politically and grammatically correct. For more info or advice contact or comment us.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pigwacket Orthography and Cartography

At the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room we often get questions about the proper spelling or meaning of place names including a recent one about Pigwacket. In his book on the subject, George Hill Evans has a entire chapter on that word's orthography that includes his documentation of 68 variations of spelling the word.

Copies of the book can be read for free on the internet in a form that is easy to search for topics and keywords. In addition to the fantastic information in the book, the history of behind the book and its author are interesting in their own way. George Hill Evans was librarian emeritus of the Somerville (Massachusetts) Public Library. He was also an early President of the Conway Historical Society and led tours of local history throughout the town.

Our signed edition was publication number one for the Conway Historical Society.
Stephen Laurent of Odanak was listed as a key source of information on the subject. Laurent and his family developed the now famous Abenaki Heritage Site in Conway. (Abenaki is another word with numerous documented spelling variations).


A detail of a 1625 map is included that when compared with other maps in the Conway Public Library's collection reveals an a fascinating environmental analysis of the area over time. The library has recently have hosted a number of school tours that focused on the environmental history of the area and we welcome any other groups who would like to sign up for the tour and related outreach programs.


To learn more contact us through the comment section below.