Happy New Year! Can we just take a minute and say Thanks?! 2014 was an incredible year for MHS, much due to all the wonderful people who visited us for public programs, listened to our podcasts, became members, researched in our library, contributed to our collections, and engaged with us in person (throughout the state) and online.
We love creating programs and exhibitions for our diverse audiences (in Maine and around the world) and hope that if you haven’t had a chance to join the MHS community, 2015 will be your year to do it. Drop us a line if there’s something of particular interest that you’d like to see us doing in the new year–we welcome your feedback!
We’ve created 7 ways to look back on all that you’ve helped us accomplish in 2014–check out these posts compiled by our staff:
We kicked off 2014 with a number of programs relating to themes of the Civil War and food–both were presented in our exhibitions, but our year was peppered with lectures, presentations, First Friday Art Walks, tastings, sailing trips, baseball games, book launches, haunted houses, summer camp, and so much more…too much, in fact, to fit into this blog recap. Still, we’d like to reflect upon some of our public program highlights from 2014.
Food-related programs drew big crowds this year, thanks in part to Portland’s burgeoning status as a “foodie city” and our rich historical collections related to Maine food and restaurants. In conjunction with an exhibition on menus from our collections in February and March, Gary Libby gave a presentation on this history of Portland’s Chinese restaurants, and food historian and author Sandy Oliver came to talk about Maine restaurant fare. In July, Kate McCarty gave a talk based on her book, Portland Food: The Culinary Capital of Maine. Visit our podcast page to find links to these talks.
From Lost on a Mountain in Maine: Donn Fendler Comes to MHS
On August 16, Donn Fendler visited MHS and spoke to a packed house about his experience in 1939, being 12 years old and lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days. His story was turned into the classic book Lost on a Mountain in Maine, and many guests brought their copies for Donn to sign.
He was joined by filmmaker Ryan Cook who shared film clips from his documentary as well as a “first look” for the feature film he plans to make that will share Donn’s story with the world. This 75th anniversary event was co-sponsored by the Pine Tree Council’s Boy Scouts of America.
July 4th Public Reading & Display of the Declaration of Independence
More than 125 people listened to and reflected upon the words of our country’s founders during our annual reading of the Declaration of Independence by former State Rep. Herb Adams on the front lawn of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Many visitors had the chance to view our rare Dunlap broadside of the Declaration, which we displayed in our gallery that week. Photos from the event are on our Facebook page, and you can watch video clips from local TV stations WCSH and WMTW.
Celebrate the Season with MHS
This holiday season, we invited visitors to explore the friendship between the man who is said to have “invented America” and the man who is said to have “invented Christmas”–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens. Guests toured the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and learned about both men, Dickens’s visit to Portland, Christmas traditions of the Longfellow family, and the enduring effects of A Christmas Carol.
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, our festively decorated campus was abuzz with holiday programs including the MHS Members holiday party, special tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House (where Scrooge selfies were taken), music in the house by pianist David Maxwell, blacksmith demonstrations by Sam Smith, a holiday shopper’s bazaar, and special programming during the December Art Walk and Portland Tree Lighting. To top it all off, we had a very special performance, An Evening with Longfellow and Dickens, by Portland Stage actors Daniel Noel and Andrew Harris who played the parts of the two men and brought their friendship to life in this sold-out event.
Other Notable Programs:
This summer we hosted our third annual Vintage Baseball Game which featured the Dirigo Base Ball Club, the Essex Base Ball Organization, and the Presumpscot Base Ball Club. The teams played at the SMCC Athletic Fields in South Portland, and kids participated in a baseball clinic run by visiting players. This free event was co-sponsored by Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, Scarborough Historical Society, and South Portland Historical Society.
In 2013 we started a new Student Spotlight lecture series which was made increasingly popular this year. Talks showcase new research from undergraduates and graduates at Maine colleges and universities. This year, we heard about 19th century cookbooks and domestic manuals, and the 1970s environmental clean-up of the Androscoggin River. Stay tuned for Student Spotlight talks in 2015!
Civil War programming related to the ongoing sesquicentennial was hugely popular in 2014. In March, we held an informative and powerful panel presentation, Veterans Issues: From the Civil War to Today, moderated by former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Other panelists included Amy Marcotte, Sanford Vet Center Team Leader; Ryan Lilly, Director, VA Maine Healthcare System; and Donald Beattie, Togus historian (pictured together here). In May, Chandra Manning, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University, presented her talk African Americans & the U.S. Government During and After the Civil War to a receptive and engaged crowd. Our annual Olmsted Lecture was also dedicated to the Civil War with the presentation, Sanitary Concerns: Portlander Harriet Eaton, State Relief Work, and the Fight over Federal Benevolence during the Civil War, by Jane Schultz, Professor of English and the Medical Humanities, and Director of Literature, at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. (You can hear the latter two talks as podcasts).
In November, as part of the opening reception for the traveling exhibition Lincoln: The Constitution and The Civil War, historian Jared Peatman attracted a packed-house with his talk Free and Responsible Government: The Long Shadow of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Two additional programs relating to this exhibition topic were Maine in the Civil War with speaker and MHS Trustee Lee Webb, and Portland’s Irish in the Civil War with speaker Matthew Jude Barker.
In early December, we hosted a book launch of the highly-anticipated publication Historical Atlas of Maine(currently sold-out but check back later this winter), co-hosted with the University of Maine. Dick Judd joined us for his presentation Reflections on Editing the Historical Atlas of Maine: A Scholarly Epic with speaker Dick Judd. After 15 years of extensive research, the Historical Atlas of Maine presents in cartographic form–maps, paintings, graphs, and text–the historical geography of Maine from the end of the last ice age to the year 2000. Organized in four chronological sections, the Atlas tells the principal stories of the many people who have lived in Maine over the past 13,000 years.
Can’t Make it to MHS? Listen to our Podcasts!
We are pleased to announce that many MHS lectures and book talks dating back to early 2012 are now available as podcasts on our website and on iTunes! For those of you who can’t attend our programs in person can still access the diverse content. Just click on the arrow on the horizontal bar beneath the program description (when navigating from our website).
Maine Historical Society participates in Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and visitors in 2014 were able to engage in our exhibitions at no charge on those select evenings. Stay tuned for 2015 Art Walk events at MHS!
As the year unfolded, we presented our collections in new and interesting ways in the following exhibitions, throughout our campus and offsite, too:
When Peleg Wadsworth built the Longfellow House in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city.
Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant witness to the life of an emerging community. The stories of the Wadsworth and Longfellow families and an ever-changing cast of neighbors on their block—families, hotels, businesses, tenements, etc.—help explain how Portland has become the beloved, livable city we know today.
We collaborated with the public for one particular display “Your Home: Past & Present” in which folks took photos of their homes as they appear today, and submitted them to us along with historical images of their homes (many found on Maine Memory Network). Learn more about how you can participate in this project, and view some of the submissions in our Facebook album or website.
Throughout 2015, HOME and our related public programs will provide context and a rich forum for discussing issues in the contemporary life of the Portland.
In conjunction with HOME, we displayed the show Remembering Our Visit: Souvenir China and Mementos of the Longfellow House (June 26 – present), in the Showcase Gallery, which features objects relating to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his boyhood home that demonstrates the poet’s wide public appeal. Collecting souvenirs became popular in the late 1800s with the expansion of the railways and the rise of leisure time in the United States. Local dry goods, crockery, and glassware retailers commissioned pieces and made them available for those who wanted a keepsake of their visit to Portland and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.
Shettleworth Lecture Hall
Throughout 2014, we presented five exhibitions, contributed by MHS staff from different departments, in this space–the first being the aforementioned Dear Old Maine I’m Coming Back.
From Chop Suey to Washington Pie: Maine Menus(February 24 – April 3), was curated by our Archivist & Cataloger Nancy Noble, and highlighted the eclectic menu collections at the Brown Library. This compilation of vintage menus was inspired by a blog post written by Noble, that was picked up by the Portland Press Herald, and provided a tasty backdrop for many food-related programs that we hosted during Maine Restaurant Week.
From Slavery to Maine(April 4 – May 26)was curated by Candace Kanes, Historian and Maine Memory Network Curator. A number of former slaves, probably several hundred, settled in Maine during and after the Civil War. Some came through the auspices of Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, a native of Leeds and head of the Freedman’s Bureau; some with individual soldiers, and others on their own. Letters, photographs, and newspaper articles tell the story of a few of the former slaves who came to Maine in the 1860s.
A Snapshot of Portland, 1924: The Taxman Cometh(June 27 – September 28) celebrates the informal photographs taken by the tax assessors of every taxable building and home in Portland (including the Casco Bay islands) in 1924. These unique images were recently added to the Maine Memory Network, making them easily accessible to the public. The exhibition highlights a selection of these fascinating snapshots of Portland life-from its first “skyscrapers” to tenements, pool halls, and farms.
William David Barry, our Reference Historian and the curator of this exhibition, writes:
“one of the first, most enduring, and helpful acts carried out by the Portland city government that was formed under the new charter of 1923 was to photograph and describe every taxable building in the city.”
The visual and descriptive record created by men and women hired by the Tax Assessors Office provides a unique view into Portland’s architecture, neighborhoods, industries, and businesses at a time when Portland was on the verge of profound changes. If you missed the show in person, you can view Barry’s selections in this online exhibit.
Wholesome Habitations: Architectural Collections at Maine Historical Society(October 3 – present) was curated by Jamie Rice, Director of Library Services with collaboration from Ted Oldham, MHS Trustee and Joseph Reynolds. This exhibition, sponsored by SMRT Architects and Scott Simons Architects, highlights the extensive architectural drawing collection at the MHS. On display are various forms of architectural drawings and supplemental items, such as presentation drawings, elevations, floor plans, decorative elements, and photographs.
The nationally traveling exhibition, Lincoln: The Constitution and The Civil War, from the American Library Association and National Constitution Center arrived at the Brown Library on November 12. This extraordinary show came to us as a collaboration with the Maine Irish Heritage Center. It highlights emancipation and President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with the constitutionality of the thirteenth amendment.
The exhibition marks the first for our new repurposed space in the Reading Room of the Library, was highly attended, and included three evening events – bringing in nearly 500 people to the Brown Library. This show closed on December 20.
Our Registrar & Collections Manager, Holly Hurd-Forsyth, curated the special mini-exhibition Affectionately Yours, Charles Dickens. This compact but awe-inspiring display was located in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House during the holiday season and was available for guests to view during tours in November and December. Affectionately Yours featured, among other items, an original letter from Charles Dickens written to Senator Charles Sumner in 1842.
As part of our spectacular fundraising event in May, An Evening in the 1920s, we displayed a mini-exhibition for one night only in the historic Portland Masonic Temple. Guests enjoyed seeing MHS collections from the 1920s, relating to themes of fashion, photography, and prohibition.
Monument Square–once known as Market Square–is the beating heart of Portland’s downtown, a landmark space that holds our city’s history, culture, and community. In April, we collaborated with the proprietors of the Public Market House, to present MHS collection images relating to the history of Portland’s Monument Square in their space. Circling the Square: 100 Years at the Market opened on April 4 during the First Friday Art Walk, and remains on permanent display on the venue’s second floor. A trip to Maine Historical Society isn’t complete without a walk across the street to see the monument, this photography show, and have a tasty lunch by the local food merchants in the Market!