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.
It’s that time of year! The Magical History Tour—the biggest and most fantastic of Maine Historical Society events—is taking place Saturday, May 13 from 10am-4pm. This year’s exploration of historical gems that are usually closed to the public will celebrate Portland’s creative legacy—a rich history of art, entertainment, and architecture. The locations are kept top secret until the night before as they’re revealed at Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party on Friday, May 12 at the State Theatre.
During the party, auctioneer Tom Saturley, President of Tranzon Auction Properties, will preside over a dazzling live auction—consult the list below and get your bids in a row! Check back for updates as the list grows. Guests at the Party will also enjoy a silent auction featuring food, travel, games, and adventures, scrumptious light fare including a complimentary signature cocktail, and a full cash bar available throughout the evening. Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party promises to be a night to remember.
Longfellow 1913 Rolls Royce Car Ride & Museum Membership
Enjoy a ride in Maine history! This 1913 Rolls Royce was originally owned by Alice Mary Longfellow, daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. She is known as “grave Alice” from her father’s poem “The Children’s Hour.” This fabulous vehicle is now in the collections of the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum—and you have a chance to ride in it! Bring three friends and let the OHTM staff take you for a ride around Portland on May 13, or make an appointment to visit Owl’s Head one day this summer for a ride along the coast!
Exclusive MHS Artifact Viewing and Dinner Party for 10
Enjoy a rare opportunity to see first-hand and up close historic collections of national significance, as well as iconic Maine collections. The exhibited items are rarely seen in public, and demonstrate the richness of MHS’s 200-year collecting history. Items will include our rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, a lock of George Washington’s hair, and the famous Richmond Island coins. The intimate event includes a private viewing in the Society’s Brown Library hosted by Jamie Rice, MHS Director of Library Services and followed by a full-course candlelight dinner in the Longfellow Garden that is custom designed byDandelion Catering with winedonated from Old Port Wine & Cigar. Get your history-loving friends together for an experience guaranteed to amaze!
Curate Your Own Exhibition at MHS
Working with Chef Curator Kate McBrien, you will curate a small museum exhibition on a topic of your choice. The exhibition will be on view to the public for the months of February and March 2018 in our Showcase Gallery, with an Opening Reception for family and friends. Have a collection or an interest in history that you’ve always wanted to share? Now’s your chance!
Chebeague Island Inn
Enjoy a Weekend Getaway at Chebeague Island Inn, one of the few remaining inns that once dotted the Maine coast. A two-night stay for two this summer in an Ocean View room (with a private bath), complimentary gourmet breakfast, afternoon tea & house made pastries, (and daily turndown service). Step back in time, unplug (there are absolutely no TVs or phones) and unwind: read in our Great Room, sip cocktails on the Inn’s wrap around porch, enjoy the 9-hole course at the Great Chebeague Golf Club, explore the island on bicycle. Chebeague Island Inn, with its ocean views and spectacular sunsets, offers a magical, elegant, and uniquely Maine setting for your weekend getaway.
Sugarloaf Summer Vacation
Sugarloaf may be renowned for its winter adventures, but the splendor of Carrabassett Valley in summer is no less stunning. Included in this package is two nights in a condo on the mountain (sleeps 6), a round of golf for two people, and a half-hour scenic flight from Sugarloaf Aviation offering unmatched perspectives of this gorgeously rugged part of Maine.
Bromage Family Camp
Enjoy a weeklong stay at the beautiful lakeside camp of MHS Executive Director Steve Bromage, located in Winthrop. The experience includes a one-week stay (camp sleeps 8) with access to two kayaks and a canoe for enjoying fishing or just the relaxing sights and sounds of nature.
Sea Dogs First Pitch & 1/2 Inning on the Radio
Throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a Sea Dogs game of your choice, and then spend an inning in the radio broadcast booth, helping announce the game! The package includes four Box Seat tickets.
Silent Auction Items include:
Fun and Adventure in Portland
Sea kayak tour to Fort Gorges with Portland Paddle ($104)
Maine Brew Bus adventure ($150)
Maine Escape Games gift certificate ($50)
Wine & Dine
Private wine tasting ($200)
Cellardoor wine pairing ($300)
Dinner for four with personal chef Sue Ellen Sevigny ($300)
I recently processed a collection which warmed my heart on a cold winter’s day: Alice Gehring’s diaries. Alice, and her physician husband Edwin, lived on Ocean Avenue in Portland, and had three children: Marcia (born in 1906), John (born 1908), and Jane (born 1915). As with many of our family collections, the love shines through the pages of these diaries, tenderly kept by Alice over the years, with some additions by Edwin.
I love the sweet note written by Edwin’s mother Catharine upon their engagement in 1901:
“Dear Miss Chamberlin,
Words can hardly express the joy and satisfaction that thrilled my heart, upon learning that yours and Edwin’s first and only real and sincere love for one another, had after years of suspence and agony, taken its natural and legitimate course, and ripened into an engagement. Ever since I met you for the first time, I have always admired you, and wished that your affections for one another might have been uninterrupted. Although the course of true love never did run smooth, all’s well that ends well. I am very happy over Edwin’s good fortune in winning such a pure and lovely girl, as a companion for life, and very grateful to your parents and yourself, that you have all forgiven and accepted him, into your heart and home again. May our heavenly Father protect, guide and bless you both, is the sincere wish of Edwin’s mother. In extending you a most hearty welcome into our family, I am sincerely yours
Sept 18/01 Mrs. Catharine Gehring”
In one volume, Alice talks about her wedding presents, including a gift from “Dear Edwin” who gave her an “exquisite crescent pin, with a diamond in the center and pearls graduating to the tip ends.” (The donor, Alice’s granddaughter, still has this pin). The wedding on September 10, 1904, after a long courtship, was captured not only in Alice’s diaries, but in newspaper clippings and photographs.
The love between Alice and Edwin continued over the years. In 1908, as Alice celebrated her 30th birthday, she notes: “Marcia was excitedly amused on my birthday when Edwin kissed me 30 times, adding he wished I was 50 yrs. old, that he might add 20 more kisses (decided to anyway).”
Love continues into the next generation, as the Gehring daughters marry. A photo of beaming Jane and her new husband John Griswold Bouker is accompanied by a newspaper clipping with the headline “Miss Jane Gehring will be wed Friday in navy and white dress.” This simple wedding in 1938 is in contrast to Nancy Smith’s wedding (Marcia’s daughter) – Nancy married Donald Durkee at a candlelight service in a Unitarian Church in Lynn, Massachusetts. Nancy’s gown was “ivory candlelight faille taffeta with butterfly bustle back cap sleeves, and long matching mitts.” Nancy and Donald were happily married for 62 years until her death in 2011.
Maine Historical Society has many family collections full of love – not only romantic love, but love of family. Click here for more on this collection.