In June, Maine Historical Society kicked off a weekly guided introduction to genealogical research: Find Your Place in History.
On Thursday afternoons from June to October 2018, small groups gather in MHS’s renowned Brown Research Library and embark on the Find Your Place in History program from 4:00 to 5:30pm. During the program, participants explore history on all levels: from the history of their own family to artifacts that help tell the story of western civilization.
“Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and many of our visitors to the Brown Research Library are genealogists doing research” says Nan Cumming, Director of Advancement and creator of the Find Your Place in History program. “But we have heard from a number of patrons that there is really no guided introduction to genealogy except reading a book or watching a couple of YouTube videos. We have the expertise, the information, and the collections here – this is certainly a gap in the market we can fill!”
During their afternoon session, Find Your Place in History participants dig into their own family story with the guidance of Maine Historical Society staff. In addition, they view artifacts from the collections of the Maine Historical Society and put on the white gloves and explore Maine Historical Society’s archives—off limits to regular visitors. After their work in the library, the participants gather in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House garden to enjoy refreshments.
“We’re delighted to kick off the Find Your Place in History program and to welcome those who have always had an interest in genealogy, but frankly didn’t know where to start!” said Cumming.
Find Your Place in History: A Maine Historical Society Genealogy Experience is offered Thursdays from June to October, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check-in at the MHS Museum Store at 489 Congress Street.
This is a guided introduction to genealogical research—not for experienced genealogists. To ensure you have the most fascinating experience, bring the names and birthdates of a few relatives to your session.
Ticket Price: $75 each. There is a maximum of 6 people per tour. The deadline to register for each event is the Monday prior to the event. Available by advance registration online at mainehistory.org or by phone at 207-774-1822 ext. 216
The Waterhouse family of Kennebunk has found a new home in the Maine Historical Society archives! This collection of archival material primarily focuses on Homer T. Waterhouse, his wife Bessie (Harmon), and their three children.
Homer T. Waterhouse (1873-1948) was born in Kennebunkport to J. Taylor and Rebecca (Tarbox) Waterhouse. After graduating from Colby College in 1895, he pursued successful legal, business and political careers. He married Bessie Harmon in 1911, and they had three children; Lois (1912-2007), Homer (1914-2003) and Christine (1916-2004).
Of all the Waterhouse family members, Lois is the most prominently featured in the collection. Lois graduated as valedictorian from Kennebunk High School in 1930. She attended Mount Holyoke College where she majored in mathematics and graduated summa cum laude in 1934. She married Asa Foster Kinney in 1938 and they had two daughters. Lois’s papers and correspondence cover her childhood in Maine, her time at Mount Holyoke, a European tour in 1934, her wedding and her life in Massachusetts with her husband and children.
Homer attended Hebron Academy and graduated as valedictorian in 1932. He attended Bowdoin College and then earned a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1939. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance as Lieutenant Commander. Following the war, Homer continued his successful legal and business career. He married Geraldine Keating and was stepfather to her two children.
Christine followed her sister to Mount Holyoke (class of 1938) and later graduated from Columbia University School of Medicine. Following medical school, she was the director of a clinical research center, a professor of medicine and in 1979 she returned to Maine and opened a practice in Biddeford. She married John Raines III and had two daughters.
One of our favorite parts of the collection is four photo albums that contain wonderful candid photographs of the Waterhouse family during Lois, Homer and Christine’s childhoods. There are photos of the family at the beach, digging for clams and Lois and Homer outside after, what appears to be, a significant snowstorm. These albums are a nice change of pace from the usual staged portraits of the early 20th century and allow the personalities of the Waterhouse family to shine through.
Another gem from the collection is a letter seven-year-old Lois wrote to Santa Claus in 1919. Her gift requests were very modest by today’s standards. She asked for a box of candy, a new hair ribbon and something to embroider. Lois was also concerned about the logistics of Santa’s arrival. “Are you coming by airship or reindeer sleigh? Don’t forget our chimney please.”
The Waterhouse family collection (Coll. 2980) was donated by Lois’s daughter Carolyn and contains correspondence, photographs, photo albums, newspaper clippings, postcards, deeds, scrapbooks, diplomas, invoices/receipts and genealogical information.
A wonderful new collection is available for researchers: The Walter Alphonsus, Jr. and Laura Mae Manchester O’Brien collection (Coll. 2962). Given to us by Julia O’Brien-Merrill, the daughter of Walter and Laura O’Brien, this collection contains the manuscript papers, business records, printed materials, FBI record, books, correspondence, photographs, genealogical research, newspaper articles, sound recordings, and several objects that tell the story of Walter and Laura O’Brien.
Walter Alphonsus O’Brien, Jr. was born in 1914, the fourth child of Walter A. O’Brien from Portland and Susan Ann Crosby (born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts and raised in Portland, Maine), who were both third generation Irish Americans. Walter had one brother, Francis Massey O’Brien (b. 1908) and three sisters, Mary Louise O’Brien O’Connor (b. 1910), Anna Kathleen O’Brien Gardenier (b. 1912), and Dorothy Elizabeth O’Brien Picard (b. 1921). Walter was raised in Portland Maine, graduated from Portland High School, and Gorham Normal School (later Gorham State Teachers College and today University of Southern Maine) at the age of 20.
Instead of taking a teaching job, Walter went to sea in the mid-1930s performing various radio and communications jobs. It was while at sea that O’Brien discovered a taste and talent for politics and became a union organizer.
In 1939, he married Laura Mae Manchester, who was born in Bridgton, Maine in 1920 but raised in Portland, Maine. Laura’s parents were Donald Baxter Manchester and Ethel Lillian Pendexter, both of longtime Maine families. Laura had two siblings, Melvin Lyle (b. 1921) and Juanita Ann Manchester (b. 1926); all graduating from Deering High School.
Walter joined the Merchant Marines and served during World War II. After the war, the O’Briens moved to Boston and Walter took a position as port agent with the American Communications Association, a union affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Walter and Laura plunged into politics in Boston and joined the Massachusetts Chapter of the Progressive Party (founded in Boston April 1948). The Progressive Party’s candidate for the 1948 presidential election was Henry A. Wallace of Iowa. He was an inventor and publisher who had served as FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Commerce.
Walter A. O’Brien was drafted as a 1948 Congressional candidate from both the Progressive Party and the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. O’Brien ran against Christian Herter, a Republican incumbent and future governor of Massachusetts. The O’Briens worked tirelessly to elect Wallace however he received less than 2% of the Massachusetts vote and only 2.4% of the national vote.
O’Brien fared better than Wallace, capitalizing on his Irish surname and the fact that he also ran on the combined Democratic and Progressive Parties ticket; however, he lost to Herter by a 2 to 1 margin. In 1949, Walter O’Brien ran for mayor of Boston on the platform that the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) not raise their rates to bail out stockholders of the privately-owned transit company. Campaign slogans and songs were popular then, and O’Brien partnered with The Boston Peoples Artists, also like-minded Progressives, and the M.T.A. song was written after the current mayor increased the MTA fares by 50%. Public outrage followed and the M.T.A. song was a big hit and campaign boost to O’Brien. O’Brien lost the Boston Mayoral race to John B. Hynes, finishing last with barely 1% of the vote. Laura O’Brien, also active in the Progressive Party, ran for Boston City Council in 1951. Both remained Progressive Party members who were passionate about their political candidates.
Despite the demise of the Progressive Party in Massachusetts and nationally in the early 1950s, the O’Brien’s continued to pursue their liberal ideology. The 1950s fostered in an era of the “Red Scare” and nationally the House Committee on Un-American Activities, led by Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin, was “going strong,” blacklisting Hollywood actors, screenwriters and directors and working to execute the Rosenbergs. Massachusetts had its own Commission of Communism and this committee held more than 50 public hearings and private executive sessions calling scores of witnesses to testify.
Both Walter and Laura O’Brien, along with their good friend Florence Hope Luscomb, all three members of the Progressive Party, were questioned by this Commission and refused to answer sensitive questions. As a result, 85 people in Massachusetts were named “Communists or followers of the Communist Party Line” in an official published report. The O’Briens, with many others, rejected this report and vowed to “continue to fight for the rights of labor and civil liberties” guaranteed in the United States Constitution. McCarthyism in the 1950s resulted in the O’Briens being followed by the FBI and essentially blacklisted by the Commission.
Unable to get jobs, Walter and Laura O’Brien and their two children, Julia Massey O’Brien and Kathleen Manchester O’Brien, moved to Gray, Maine in 1956, together with Laura’s sister Juanita and her husband Chuck Wojchowski and their two young children Rachel and Don. In 1960, they all settled in Portland, Maine and lived there for ten years. Walter sold cars and then became a librarian while Laura, at the age of 37, started college and completed a teaching degree at Gorham State College. She went on to obtain a graduate degree in the mid-1960s and became a Reading Specialist in the Gray public schools. Walter and Laura had a third daughter, Amy Pendexter O’Brien, born in 1964.
In the late 1950s the Kingston Trio discovered the M.T.A. song that Walter’s campaign had used, changed some wording, and released their own version on their second album in June 1959. The Kingston Trio dropped the name Walter A. O’Brien and replaced it with George O’Brien. The song became a hit and for a time Walter and Laura were thrown into the spotlight. Walter enjoyed this attention; Laura, not so much.
In the 1960s, Walter pursued his Master’s Degree and became prominent on the State of Maine Library Commission for a number of years. He served as librarian for Lewiston Public Library, University of Southern Maine Library, and Westbrook High School Library. In retirement, from 1980 to 1990, Walter and Laura owned a small bookstore in Cundys Harbor, Maine, called “The Book Peddlers.” The business, also called “Parnassus on Wheels,” was open “only in the summer, by chance.” Walter specialized in Maine books and Laura in children’s books.
Walter A. O’Brien died in Maine in 1998 at the age of 83. Laura died two years later at the age of 79. Both died in Cundys Harbor, Maine.
The Walter A. Jr. and Laura M. O’Brien Collection contains limited information about Walter’s brother, Francis M. O’Brien, who in his own right was known for his love of books and his Antiquarian Bookstores in the Portland area. The collection also contains information about Florence Hope Luscomb, a close friend of Walter and Laura O’Brien. Florence was a fellow member of the Progressive Party; was one of the first women graduates of MIT in 1909 and a lifelong activist for women’s rights, civil rights, labor rights and civil liberties. In 1998, with the help of Walter and Laura O’Brien, Florence Luscomb was honored by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. A bust of Florence Luscomb, along with other prominent women in Massachusetts history, now hangs in the State House honoring their many and varied contributions.
In 2017, Julia M. O’Brien-Merrill, Walter and Laura’s middle daughter, honored her father’s legacy by writing and publishing a children’s book entitled Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return? The book, published by Applewood Books, Commonwealth Editions, in Carlisle, Massachusetts, includes actual historical facts and a timeline in addition to the lyrics of the original campaign song. It is illustrated by Caitlin Marquis. The book is included in the collection.
We are thrilled to have this collection here at Maine Historical Society, and especially delighted that Julia O’Brien will be sharing her children’s book with us on November 11th!
Another family’s story has emerged from the unprocessed collections: the Gould family. The collection consists primarily of three generations: Theodore Gould (1873-1966), his son Charles Edwin Gould Sr. (1909-1990), and Charles’s son Charles Gould Jr. (1944-).
Theodore Gould was born in Portland, Maine to Amelia (Twitchell) and John Mead Gould. He married Susan Francis Hill (“Daisy”) in North Berwick in 1908. Theodore and Susan had two children, Charles Edwin Gould Sr. and Althea Chase Gould. Of note in this collection are letters written by Susan to Theodore before and during their marriage. These letters offer detailed and interesting insight into the evolution of their relationship.
Charles Edwin Gould Sr., son of Theodore and Susan, attended Bowdoin College but transferred to Lowell Textile Institute to learn the mill business. However, his family’s mill, the North Berwick Company, was later sold and Charles went into banking at the First National Bank of Biddeford. He married Elizabeth Prince (1915-1987) in 1941 and they had two children, Charles Edwin Gould Jr. and Susan Kennison Gould, later Hennessey. Charles’s letters to Elizabeth during his service in World War II are preserved in this collection, as well as correspondence with his children.
Charles Edwin Gould Jr. grew up in Kennebunkport. He is a collector, dealer and authority of the author P.G. Wodehouse. He attended Phillips Exeter and Hebron Academy and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1967. He married Carolyn (Skidmore) Mayhew (1944-1986) in 1968. He went on to a career teaching English at Hebron Academy and Kent School. In addition to correspondence with his parents, there are also thirty years’ worth of Charles’ elaborate rhyming Christmas cards in this collection.
The heart of this collection is correspondence. However, this collection also includes diaries, photographs, notes and drawings from Lowell Textile Institute, documents regarding North Berwick Company, newspaper clippings and legal documents among others.
Join us Tuesday, June 13 for an evening of live music from the Lomax Folk Project, a five-piece band performing songs collected and archived by John and Alan Lomax for the American Archive of Folk Music. This evening’s performance will highlight music gathered in Maine.
John and Alan Lomax pioneered recording folklore by traveling across the United States. The father-son duo interviewed, recorded and learned from artists such as Leadbelly, Jean Ritchie and Muddy Waters. Together, they helped shape American music by influencing such artists as Jeff Buckley, Mumford and Sons, and Ed Sherran; all of whom have recorded folk classics from the Lomax collection. Hannah Grantham and Amanda Ekery created the Lomax Folk Project to commemorate the 150th anniversary of John Lomax in 2017 and celebrate American Folk Music with audiences. The Project’s mission is to inform audiences of the vibrant music history in their own backyards.
The Lomax Folk Project explores the vast repertoire recorded by the Lomaxes for the American Archive of Folk Music, located at the Library of Congress. This five-piece band—Amanda Ekery, voice, piano, arranger; Hannah Grantham, voice, musicologist; Daniel Raney, bass; Sam Talmadge, guitar; and Julian Loida, percussion—recreates these classics and invites audiences to learn about the artists, history and stories behind the music, and even join in! Ekery has arranged each of the songs, some being performed in an authentic way and some being reimagined with new harmony and melodic figures. Grantham, a musicologist, has researched the history of each song and spent years compiling stories about the artists, instrumentation, and time periods.
“What’s cool about the Lomax Folk Project is we not only share the musical aspect of American Folk but also share the stories about the songs and how this music is relevant now,” says Ekery. “We get the audience involved teaching them parts to sing along and clap with throughout the show, so they are involved in making music as well.”
Thank you to all of the venues, volunteers, sponsors – and especially our guests – for making the 3rd annual Magical History Tour one for the ages!
This year we explored The American Legion Andrews Post 17, Chapman National Bank / Time & Temperature Building, Church of the Sacred Heart, Circus Maine / Thompson’s Point, Cross Jewelers, Forest City Boxing Gym / Fork Food Lab, Longfellow Rolls Royce, State Theatre, Waynflete School, and the winner of our People’s Choice site from the past two years, the City Hall Clock Tower. For those who weren’t able to join us or didn’t get to visit all the locations, see below for historical information on each site.
And don’t forget to keep sharing your awesome photos from the Tour with us on social media using #MHSTour. Below are some from our Communications Manager throughout the day – he wasn’t able to visit all the sites so help us collect ’em all with images of your own!
The American Legion, Andrews Post 17
History of the Structure:
23 Deering Street, designed by renowned Portland architect John Calvin Stevens was built for Fred E. Allen in 1898. Originally designed as a double house (although built as a single family), the two and half story Colonial Revival home was occupied by the Allen’s until the death of Mrs. Harriet Allen in 1925. Mrs. Allen’s executor sold the home to Karl Seaholm, who in turn sold it to The American Legion Harold T. Andrews Post, 17, in 1926 for the sum of $1 and other considerations. Mr. Seaholm never occupied the home, making the Post the second occupant.
While designed as a double house, or two-family home, there is no evidence of residents other than Fred Allen and his wife Harriet. The couple did not have children, and there appears to be no evidence of renters or other use.
The Dining Room: In 1996, the major Hollywood film, was made here. “The Preacher’s Wife”–a romantic comedy directed by Penny Marshall, starred Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. They filmed a skating scene in Deering Oaks Park, but due to warm weather than year, had to make snow for the scene. This building’s dining room (on the tour) was used as the preacher’s office in the film.