Monday, May 24, 2021

Memento Mori Curatio

We spent this past weekend at a friend's place on Peaks Island and received a special "behind the scenes" tour of the Fifth Maine Museum. For more info on the museum see this link here.

It is not your typical Civil War museum.

One of the many highlights of the visit was meeting historian C. Ian Stevenson, who has found this site to be an important part of his soon to be published book, "This Summer-Home of the Survivors": The Civil War Vacation in Architecture and Landscape, 1878-1918. It explores communal vacation cottages and campgrounds constructed by Civil War veterans as places to merge memory and leisure among their comrades and families. 

As you can see from the photo above, the building is surrounded by ten foot wide wrap around veranda. The view from the back is not too shabby with its... 

...view of the dramatic cliffs and caves of Whitehead on the eastern end of Cushing Island. 

Inside the building portraits, prints, sculptures, maps, artifacts and stained glass windows honor the fallen and the memories of their brothers in arms.

Built in 1888, it was used by the local chapter of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic), a nation wide fraternal organization composed of Civil War veterans.

This "sacred-secular" architecture of grief and relief made me think a lot about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The GAR and their women's auxiliary are the ones who helped make Memorial Day a national holiday. Holidays can be an important part of healing. The building served (and still serves) as a tonic.  For many years Civil War veterans and their families summered here, enjoying the cooling ocean breezes and magnificent views. 

The building still serves as a cultural center and community meeting space and can be rented for weddings, etc. The museum continues its focus on the "summer cure." The power of story to heal and create community is explored in this summer's special exhibition “Weathering the Storm: Five Centuries of Resilience on Peaks Island” slated to open on July 7, 2021. Curator, Holly Hurd-Forsyth's exhibit starts at the point of European contact with the indigenous Wabanaki people in the early 1600s and explores a defining hardship for each of the next five centuries, asking the question “Is resilience and community more meaningful here on Peaks Island, where outside assistance is not always accessible?”

Back in Conway, an important treasure of the Conway Public Library is this flag from our own local GAR post (Custer Post #47). 

We also have the post register... 

...recording the name, age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and military record of the post members from 1879 to 1924 when the last member passed.

The Conway Historical Society also has an important collection of Civil War related items including this wonderful plaque.

Sunbeams and Sparks

Flags and banners were a part of dealing with the uncertainty of the Civil War beginning as early as 1861, when Frederic Edwin Church used this image to meditate on the idea of a higher meaning, to understand the reasons, and to lift the spirits in the midst of the ongoing carnage.

One of several versions he did to explore the theme, this one is an oil on paper and more can be found out about it here. Note the light of the camp fire on the distant shore (more on camp fires later). 

The dark cloud on the left looks to me like an eagle in the sky. This photo is from this site here. There is a good explanation of the science behind these crepuscular rays here

You might want to consider becoming a member of the cloud appreciation society here.

An aesthetic appreciation of art, architecture, landscape and clouds can be a useful part of dealing with grief and trauma. New England artists offered a variety of perspectives in their commentary on the Civil War and its aftermath.

In a number of cases, artists used New England's bucolic farming traditions as a symbolic way to comment on life after war such as Homer's "Harrowing" experience here,

harvesting in a New Field here, and ...

...hiking and mountain climbing here

Storytelling was part of the therapeutic activities of the GAR.

This book, Sparks for the Camp Fire, is lusciously illustrated. The subtitle lists its contents as "Heroic deeds, brave encounters, desperate battles, bold achievements, reckless daring, lofty patriotism, terrible suffering and wondrous fortitude..." 
Published 1891, this book devotes over one hundred pages to the GAR. You can read it here. However, there is nothing like seeing it in real life in our history room and we welcome you to visit.

The Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library has a number of other resources for those interested in honoring veterans. We have a collection of books and archives that cover all eras for American military service.

We also have a number of more recent books by William Marvel including ...

Have we wet your appetite to do your own research into your family's military history? We would be happy to help you.

The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room provides free assistance with saving, searching and sharing your family history. First there is the physical care of your heirloom objects themselves. Did you know that the ferrotype photo above must be stored differently than an ambrotype photo? Do you know how to tell the difference? (Hint: The answer involves a magnet and a piece of black velvet). Do you know how to tell the difference between a good plastic or paper enclosure and a bad one? We can help you with that.

We can also help you search our powerful ancestry library edition database, available from within the library building at this link here.

This photo above of my great-grandfather, Stephen Cottrell, can be found on the library's ancestry database along with his signature on this volunteer enlistment document for the Civil War.

He joined the war on February 1, 1862 at 23 years old. For many years our family story was that he died at Lookout Point at the corners of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. It was a highlight to stop there when we visited Civil War sites on frequent trips from our home in Florida to visit our grandmother in Ohio.


Later when we read his letters more carefully and did some research we realized he actually died at Point Lookout Maryland.

The document below from the library's ancestry database confirms he was a member of the sixth regiment infantry and died March 4, 1864 at Point Lookout Maryland of an unspecified disease.

That document helps clarify the obscured regiment number on his gravestone (findagrave has his last name spelled wrong here).

Note the GAR grave marker on my great grandfather's tombstone. After a few hours climbing up and down the family tree I found my father's draft registration card posted on ancestry. 

Starting with this document we can add personalized historical tidbits such as who Mrs. Walter Johnson was (his sister, our Aunt Katherine who lived in the house at 155 and 1/2 in the back), photos of his house from Google maps and street view here, the fact that both houses were built by his dad and older brother who were carpenters and stories of some of the adventures he told us about in and around Tampa Bay such as sailing his little boat in a hurricane and being greeted by the police when he beached it. They say history has a way of repeating itself and yes, the same thing happened to me years later. 

The Conway Public Library has created a guide to visiting local veteran memorials. You can check it out here

Enjoy your holiday and thank a veteran for their service.


Monday, May 17, 2021

Starr Rocks, Thompson Falls

Compare the contours of the waterfall in the photo that I took this past weekend above, with the waterfall in the lower left corner of a painting by Benjamin Champney from 1855 featured on the White Mountain Art website (here).

Do you think I found the right spot? We were led to "The Mysterious Thompson Falls" via an article in the Saturday morning paper by Ed Parsons (page 14a here).  

So after a quick breakfast we set out to follow in Ed's footsteps.

It was a great hike. I only wish we had a dog like the man just left of the bottom center of the painting. 

Ed was in turn inspired in part by Thomas Starr King. So in a way, this blog could be subtitled "Let Starr be your guide" following up on our recent blog titled "let the stars be your guide" here

However others have directed folks to this site on the east side of Moat Mountain for over one hundred years. Starr followed Benjamin Champney and his "seven musketeers of the brush." They were in turn directed there by Kearsarge House owner Samuel W. Thompson.

A wider version of the waterfall during a wetter season more like the one in the painting was captured in a stereoview by Nathan W. Pease. Examples of this view can be found at the Museum of the White Mountains here and the Getty here.

Pease ran his photo studio, shop and a lending library from the building that is now Zeb's General Store in North Conway. Bob Duncan later ran his photo shop from the same building.  Below is an ad from the August 27, 1881 White Mountain Echo (p. 14). You can read more of this old news online here.

The White Mountain Art website also compares the Champney painting to his original sketch with its focus on Cathedral Ledge in the middle ground.

While the wide open view Champney enjoyed in the mid-nineteenth century is forested in today, you can enjoy a similar view if you follow the footsteps of Mountain Wanderer Map and Bookstore owner Steve Smith and hike up to a nearby peak where you can see this view of Cathedral Ledge, Carter Notch, Bartlett Mountain and Kearsarge Mountain.

See his photo below and his blog post from ten years ago here.

John Compton's 1happyhiker blog photo below reveals a similar vista from a nearby peak. You can read his blog here.

In his blog, Smith explains that “Above the falls, the brook slithered gently over broad ledges.”

During our four hour hike we had time for a short nap on the smooth, sunny, gently sloping pinkish slabs above the falls.

Then the water speeds up and passes swiftly over a sharp delineation between those rocks and a section of rough, sharp edged, rectangular rocks...

...and crashes down abruptly...

 ... into a tumbled jumble of large jagged dark green and grey angular rocks below...

...that is flanked on both sides by a remarkable dry boulder field. 

Smith's blog notes that "There's an interesting collection of ledges and boulders below the falls. Sweetser described them as "great masses of shattered rocks." here. pp. 85-86. 

They appear fractured as if quarried, but I saw no quarry tool marks among the fairy tale topography.

You can see these rocks on the right side of Champney's painting above. 

In his recollections, Champney relates an astonishing tale about these deep chasms, p. 105 here

"It has remained to this day, a mysterious place, and many visitors have failed to find it after making a resolute attempt. One day young Durand (referring to fellow artist Asher B. Durand), who was sitting at his easel on a flat rock intent upon his work, started up suddenly to view his sketch at a greater distance. In his enthusiasm he stepped too far back, and, to his astonishment and ours, disappeared down a deep chasm. It was equal to a stage trap - door disappearance, and was greeted with shouts of laughter. Fortunately, he was not much hurt, but much mortified."

To a geologist, this common feature of the White Mountains is known as "sheep back" shaped ledges known in French as "roche moutonnee" For more information see this link

The characteristic rock cliffs that we see are the results of glacial polishing and plucking and ongoing freeze and thaw cycles. 

Note the "farthest fallen block" in the illustration below. 

After passing through the tumultuous talus slope, the stream settles down through a series of small, subtle, serene cascades...

...and within a short distance empties into several shallow cascades that eventually broaden into deep, cool, emerald green and burnt sienna brown pools, offering a reason to return and swim on a hot summer day.

Here is a handy map from the kiosk near where we parked (click on images to enlarge them - then right click on the image and you can save and print the image).

An undated map in the style of the 1950s or 1960s shows a trail to Thompson Falls from North Conway's River Road passing just south of Echo Lake.

A map from The White Mountain Echo (June 27 1885, p. 12) shows more trails for us to follow in the future (from the past).

Today the area is crisscrossed with, as my son says, a sick series of mountain bike trails spread out like spaghetti strewn from across a room, or like the roads in Boston. You can see an online map of some of those at this link here. It is always interesting to me to see how "perception of place" changes from one generation to the next while that actual places don't change that much in the short run.

Hike on! History awaits!