Notes from the Archives: Maine’s Violin Makers

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

In November 1996, James Kane sent Maine Historical Society a document about violin makers in Maine, which included the names of the violin makers, where they lived, and their birth and death dates. In his cover letter, Kane described a wealth of research papers on this topic and asked: “Would your organization be willing to eventually accept this material and house it there?”

Twenty years later, in May 2016, Kane sent us 18 notebooks of research papers about amateur and professional violin makers from Maine, including research notes, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Kane died shortly thereafter, in September of that year.

Who was James Kane, and what was his interest in violins?

James R. Kane (1948-2016) was from Portland, Maine, and graduated from Deering High School. He taught bands and orchestras in California for 36 years. His family summered in Maine since the 1960s at their camp on Sebago Lake, which had been in his family since the 1940s.

In 1978 Kane acquired a few locally made violins at an auction, and after trying to learn more about them he found there was very little to be learned from existing data in various books and historical institutions. His interest piqued, Kane researched and collected information on about 200 individuals in Maine who crafted violins, violas, fiddles, cellos, and basses from before the Civil War to the early 2000s.

He researched violin maker names online, in research libraries, historical societies, newspapers, and through writing letters to individual family members and friends. Whenever possible Kane traveled to examine individual instruments for authenticity and craftsmanship. Data collected by Kane verified that 200 Maine craftsmen constructed stringed instruments during the time span from before the Civil War to the early 2000s, for an estimated total of 2,500 to 3,000 instruments.

We are delighted to announce that this collection is now available for research (Coll. 2978)! Photographs of many of the instruments Kane researched can be found in the collection.

This rich collection provides a glimpse into one man’s passion, as well as providing detailed information on Maine’s legacy of violin makers over the past few centuries.


Below are several items from this collection featuring Henry Harris, considered one of Maine’s most famous violin makers and one of the instrument makers Kane researched.

Henry Harris (1832-1913) of Mercer, Maine, was a cobbler and farmer. Born in Winthrop, Maine to Caleb and Dorcas Harris, he made his first violin when he was 14 years old. Henry Harris was married three times: Abbie Maria Hatch, Ruth Works, and Rose Pickens (1840-1930).

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Photograph of Henry and Rose Harris
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Photograph of Henry Harris
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Photograph of Henry Harris violin

 

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Notes from the Archives: The Big Bible

In March of this year the Bible Society of Maine donated to the Maine Historical Society a large handwritten Bible, which we affectionately refer to as “The Big Bible.”

Coll. 2951 Big Bible 2

Coll. 2951 Big Bible title page 1

The Bible Society of Maine provides some background to this tome:

“The project, initiated in 1923 by then Superintendent of the Bible Society, Edmund T Garland, involved distributing pages from an old Bible along with large (21’x28′) blank sheets.

Individuals from across the State each copied a page using pen and ink. The desire was for a broad cross-section of citizens to participate.

The oldest was Aunt Mary, a 91-year-old Quaker from Brunswick; the youngest was a 6-year-old who wrote, ‘Jesus wept.’ One page was written by a millionaire, one by a pauper. One copyist was a college president; another was a man whose whole school life consisted of only a few weeks. Another was written by then Gov. Percival Baxter [Editor’s note: Governor Baxter’s page is the last page (Revelations)], and yet another by a prisoner serving a life term. A Jewish Rabbi and a Greek Catholic Priest did their pages with equal grace, and the Book of Ruth was copied by girls named Ruth. Many of the copyists were students at secondary schools or colleges, including a student from Cuba. Each signed their name at the bottom of the page.

There are also beautifully ink-drawn, full-page illustrations. Includes a hand-drawn title page by H. W. Shaylor that states ‘Hand-written copy of The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments copied by 1607 Different People representing all classes, ages, and creeds with Seventeen full-page Illustrations and Maps made by seventeen other people.”

The Big Bible, also known as the Large Handwritten Bible, is one of the largest Bibles in the world and weighs about 88 pounds.

Although the names of the 1,607 transcribers were already indexed (and available in a small pamphlet), we asked our volunteer Charles A. Lane, Esq. (Charlie to us) to further index the transcribers so that we can learn more about them, such as where they lived and what school or organization they were associated with.

After Charlie finished this project we asked him to write about The Big Bible. He said:

“The Big Bible is an imposing document, measuring 23 x 29 x 4 ½ inches and weighing 88 ½ pounds. It was compiled under the auspices of the Bible Society of Maine from May 1923 to July 1924. 1607 persons volunteered as scribes, copying the text of the Old and New Testaments on paper which was carefully sized and ruled so that each page would contain 55 lines of text.

The participants come from many different backgrounds: one had served as a missionary in Japan from 1882-1919; one was the dean of Bowdoin College; one was a young student from Auburn who later would serve as an associate justice of the Maine Supreme Court; the youngest scribe (who noted that her birthdate was December 25, 1916) was seven; and Percival P. Baxter proudly inscribed the final page as Governor of Maine.

Some participants were critical of their peers: “This page was well written by Hazel Dwelley. . . and then spoiled by [a] careless writer. …”

The Bible contains drawings illustrating familiar Biblical stories and ends with several maps drawn by students at the Emerson School in Portland.

I came away from the project wondering how more than 1600 participants could write so legibly in cursive.

Below is a slideshow of photos of The Big Bible.

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You are welcome to come and visit The Big Bible and use it for research. To do so, you can look it up on our Minerva library catalog (Coll. 2951), and call our library to make an appointment to see this special treasure.

For additional reading on The Big Bible, here is a Memories of Maine article about the Bible published in the spring of 2011 by writer Bonnie Smith.

From the Archives: The Walter and Laura O’Brien collection

By Jane Cullen, MHS volunteer

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.

Julia Jane
Julia O’Brien-Merrill and Jane Cullen (MHS volunteer)
Jane with book
Jane Cullen, our volunteer who processed the collection, standing next to the collection and holding Julia O’Brien-Merrill’s book “Charlie on the M.T.A.: Did he Ever Return?”

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!

2014: It’s All History Now

Thanks from MHSHappy 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:

Part 1: Digital Engagement & Maine Memory Network

Part 2: Education 

Part 3: Brown Research Library & Collections

Part 4: Wadsworth-Longfellow House & Garden

Part 5: Institutional Advancement

Part 6: Gallery & Exhibitions

Part 7: Public Programs

We can’t wait to make history with you in 2015!

2013: A Year in Review at Maine Historical Society

2013_Year In Review

From electricity to the Civil War, Haunted Houses to vintage baseball games, one new building to 20,000 digitized tax records from 1924, MHS has many 2013 accomplishments to celebrate. Our exhibits, public programs, community partnerships, staff changes, and ongoing projects are highlighted in this 2013: A Year in Review at MHS blog post. We hope you enjoy what our staff has put together, and will share any comments on your favorite moments with us this past year.

You can share your comments at the end of this post, on our Facebook page, or by sending us an e-mail at info@mainehistory.org.

MUSEUM

exhibit_rebellion2

This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War

Our current museum exhibit opened on June 27. This Rebellion showcases the rich array of our Civil War collections as it tells the story of individual soldiers and others involved in the War. The exhibit features a Memorial Wall of more than 8,000 names of members of Maine regiments who were killed or died during the War. The exhibit is on display through May 26, 2014. An online version of this exhibit is available on Maine Memory Network.

exhibit_wiredWired: How Electricity Came to Maine June 22, 2012 – May 26, 2013

Wired! explored the electrification of Maine during the 20th century, and how a rural state became modern. Told primarily through material from the Central Maine Power collection, it explored the landscape, mechanics, economics, politics, and culture of electricity. An online version of this exhibit is available on Maine Memory Network.

The following exhibits were on display in our Shettleworth Lecture Hall gallery space:

Dear Old Maine, I’m Coming Back: Home & Hearth Reflected in the Maine Historical Society Sheet Music Collection November 1, 2013 – January 31, 2014

Thundered Over the Tide: 200th Anniversary of the Battle of the Boxer & the Enterprise August 31 – October 25, 2013

Patriotic Imagery  June 27 – August 26, 2013

Vintage Maine Images: A Website Comes to Life  May 1 – June 23, 2013

Maine Things: Recent Museum Acquisitions  March 1 – May 2013

In a Whole New Light  November 2 – February 2013

COLLECTIONS

Acquisitions

We received more than 325 gifts to the collections in 2013, representing over 450 linear feet of new material. One major acquisition is the Bangor Theological Seminary Collection, which you can read all about here.

PastPerfect Online Usage

2002408070PastPerfect Online is our collection database that is available to the public. In 2013, 11,746 searches were conducted during 3,510 user sessions. This represents the heaviest usage so far since we began in 2007.

The top three search terms were “Laing” (#1), “blanket” (#2) and “civil war” (#3).

The top three records were, surprisingly, a wooden toothpick container (viewed 162 times), a glass plate negative of a Kiwanis lobster bake (viewed 159 times), and a fuse from the Central Maine Power collection (viewed 134 times).

E. Christopher Livesay Maine Imprint Library catalogued

ECL_ImprintsThis collection, collected by E. Christopher Livesay, and given to the Maine Historical Society, offers a glimpse into a period of time in Maine’s history, including its religious and printing history. The E. Christopher Livesay Maine Imprint Library of approximately 657 titles ranges from about 1772 to 1845, and while most were published in Maine, a few were published outside the state. Read more about it in this blog post.

PUBLIC PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS

MHS conducted 74 programs in 2013.

A few non-traditional topics and formats drew in new audiences and garnered good publicity for MHS’s public programs in 2013. Highlights:

MHS_Base Ball Event_2013

  • “Intro to MHS”–a rotating schedule of noontime programs on standard MHS resources and services (library collections and databases, the museum catalog, and Maine Memory Network)–offered a new way for the Greater Portland population to learn in depth about what we do.
  • Food-based programs drew big numbers and a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Big hits were two fall programs that paired lively historical talks with substantial tastings of 1) heirloom apples and 2) Maine beer. Click those links to view images from our Facebook page.
  • Our 2nd Annual Vintage Baseball game in June drew 200+ to a double-header at Southern Maine Community College. Be sure to join us again this year!
  • A new four-session “Summer in the Garden” series offered something for everyone: live music, poetry, a talk on Maine birds, and a historic gardening workshop. Photos on our Facebook page.
  • We began a fruitful partnership with Northeast Document Conservation Center by offering a day-long workshop on preservation of collections that filled the lecture hall to capacity.

BROWN LIBRARY

Staff News

The Brown Library enjoyed an exciting year. Jamie Rice is now Director of Library Services and Nicholas Noyes is our Library Collections Curator. Tiffany Link joined the staff as Reference Librarian.

Events

boxerIn August, the library welcomed over 50 historians and graduate students for our Historian’s Forum.

September 5th marked the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of the HMS Boxer & the USS Enterprise. With support by the Maine Humanities Council, the Library launched a weeklong commemoration of this pivotal naval battle with an exhibit, programming and a funeral service at the Eastern Cemetery, co-hosted by the Maine Military Historical Society. Photos on Facebook.

DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT & MAINE MEMORY NETWORK

In 2013 Maine Memory Network (MMN) continued to serve historical collecting organizations around the state in digitizing and posting their items online. The site had more than 329,000 visitors and approximately 1,900,000 page views.

47832_PTR_LRAbout 21,260 items were added to the database from 67 different contributors, 88% of which were part of the 1924 Portland Tax Record digitization project. Maine Memory now has approximately 270 contributing organizations.  Read this Portland Press Herald article about the Tax record project.

Since 2011, we have awarded 46 grants to organizations and communities to work on MMN digitization and online exhibit projects thanks to funding provided by an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) National Leadership Grant. The final cycle took place this past spring, during which seven grants were awarded. Workshops, training and support around the state was in full force and remains constant. In October, MHS was awarded another National Leadership Grant from IMLS to continue our Maine Memory outreach and also open the site up to comments and contributions from individuals. We will be planning and developing tools to strengthen and enhance the Maine Memory experience for all in the coming years.

In September, we welcomed Sofia Yalouris to the digital division team as the Image Services Coordinator. She manages Vintage Maine Images and handles all rights and reproduction requests for MHS. Kathy Amoroso, Director of Digital Projects celebrated 12 years with the society and Candace Kanes, MMN curator celebrated 10 years of service at MHS.

VINTAGE MAINE IMAGES

PrintIn May, MHS  launched the redesign of our website Vintage Maine Images (VMI). Originally built in 2004, the site serves as a way to sell images from Maine Memory Network. It’s been redesigned for improved ease of use, and has a modern new look.

VMI is a shopping web site offering reproductions of more than 26,000 historical Maine images. VMI provides products for a range of uses including home and office décor, gifts, publications, and more.

This milestone was celebrated with a launch party at the opening of the exhibit Vintage Maine Images: A Website Comes to Life, the introduction of a Vintage Maine Images iPad kiosk in the museum store, and the Vintage Maine Images Facebook page.

VMIA Vintage Maine Evening, held on May 22, gathered local business leaders for an evening of history, business, cocktails, and food. Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, MHS Executive Director Stephen Bromage, and then-Image Services Coordinator Dani Fazio all gave remarks. View photos of the event on the VMI Facebook page.

WADSWORTH-LONGFELLOW HOUSE AND GARDEN

garden 2011 May #14The Longfellow Garden was awarded “Best Hidden Garden” by Downeast Magazine. For photos of all the “Best of 2013” winners, click here.

Our 2013 Wadsworth-Longfellow House tour season had much activity, hosting guests from far reaches of the globe including Sri Lanka, India, Australia, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, and all across the U.S. Many schoolchildren visited, and enjoyed learning about the poet when he was a child. We offered special tours for groups including Seeds of Peace, the MFA Boston, Downeast Adult Services, and the Walpole Society. We collaborated with the Longfellow Garden Club to bring other garden clubs to tour our campus. This summer a film HauntedHouse_webcrew from Japan came to the House and filmed for a Portland tourism segment, which will air on Japanese television. As always, our guides and docents made this season a success!

Our first-ever Longfellow’s Haunted House was a hit this year, with guests getting thrilled and chilled by James Horrigan’s performance of the poem “Haunted Houses” and learning about those who died in the Longfellow House. See photos on our Facebook page.

INSTITUTIONAL ADVANCEMENT

Jewish History Projects get go-ahead

Susan Cummings-Lawrence has continued in her role as consultant for Jewish History projects for Maine Historical Society.  This year we were able to secure funding for two exciting initiatives.

The Maine Humanities Council has given the Mount Carmel Cemetery Association a $7,500 grant  to create programming around Anshe Sfard synagogue, built in Portland in 1916. This project is an opportunity to explore the life of this unique congregation and to develop public awareness of the complexity of Portland community life and experience. Maine Historical Society is supporting the project by hosting an exhibition.  MMN Curator Candace Kanes is guiding the work as project scholar.

Maine Historical Society is also working with Susan to support the scanning and translation of numerous Yiddish documents that have been discovered at synagogues across the state.  This great community-driven endeavor has been funded by several small family foundations and is sure to yield fascinating results.  Selections of the translated documents will be available to researchers on the Maine Memory Network.

ANNUAL MEETING BUSINESS AND AWARDS

SONY DSCThe eventful 2013 MHS Annual Meeting, held at the Pepperell Mill Campus in Biddeford, saw the approval of the revised and restated MHS bylaws by unanimous vote of approximately 75 attending members as well as the election of new trustees. The Board President, Katherine Stoddard Pope, passed responsibility to Lendall Smith, who was elected to the new role of Chair of the Board of Trustees. Fran Pollitt received the Elizabeth Ring Service Award. Stan Howe was presented with the Neal Woodside Allen Jr. History Award. The James Phinney Baxter Award was given to Christopher Bilodeau. MHS trustee Fred Thompson was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award. Photos of the event can be found on this blog post.

FUNDRAISING EVENTS

MHS celebrated its 16th year hosting the annual Gala. Event Chair Aynne Doil and committee members Eric Baxter, Dan Kennedy, and Alison Leavitt helped MHS raise $58,000 and put on a great Kentucky Derby party on May 4 at The Woodlands. Save the Date for this year’s event (with a new, 1920s twist!) May 3.

IMG_0002MHS grows fiscally stronger each year through the generosity of our loyal donors and members. The 1822 Founders Council recognizes those who annually contribute $1,000 to the Annual Fund. Former Board President Katherine Pope and husband Chris Hart hosted the Council at their Cumberland Foreside home in July.  Now a festive tradition, the group also met in February at MHS where “a few of our favorite things from the MHS Collections” were presented and enjoyed by those who attended.

MHS members and friends have enjoyed nearly two decades of international travel. Each year MHS partners with Eric Baxter and AAA Northern New England and travels to interesting locations. This year the 25+ person group soaked up the treasures of Italy. This year we’ll be going to the Black Sea (call us for details 207-774-1822 ext. 216).

NEW BUILDING FOR COLLECTION STORAGE

MHS manages an unparalleled collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts related to Maine history. While we have led the field in providing digital access to these resources, we also remain committed to our physical collections and what they represent.

Our situation is not unusual, and the more we talked to our friends at the Portland Public Library (PPL), it became clear that they shared the same space needs.  We developed the idea for collaborative solution.  On November 15, following an exhaustive due-diligence process, MHS and the PPL jointly purchased a 35,000 square foot property at 1000 Riverside Drive in Portland that will ultimately serve as a shared collections management center (SCMC). After some renovations, we expect to begin moving our collections there this Spring. Learn more about this project here.

Executive Director Steve Bromage shares his thoughts on the Collections Management Center being developed with the Portland Public Library in this blog post.

MUSEUM STORE

photo 2The MHS Museum Store received a much needed face-lift this year with the generous gift of cherry wood bookcases.  Thank you to Baker, Newman, Noyes for the donation and to MHS Facilities Manager, Steven Atripaldi for installing them!

CELEBRATE THE SEASON

DSC_0037The year concluded with a month-long celebration of the holidays with our now four-year old program “Celebrate the Season with MHS!” Highlights included Longfellow House tours decorated for the holidays with renowned pianist David Maxwell who played live music on1843 Chickering piano, and the program “Home for the Holidays” showcasing traditional artists and craftspeople. Photos from the event are on Facebook. Our members enjoyed the annual holiday party on December 5.

STAFF CHANGES

In addition to the new staff mentioned in the Library and Digital Engagement sections, we also made these staff additions and changes in 2013:

Nan Cumming, Director of Institutional Advancement, returned to the Maine Historical Society after a 13-year absence. She had previously worked for MHS in a variety of capacities from 1989 to 1999; Nan recently worked as the Director of the Capital Campaign at Maine Island Trail Association, and Executive Director of Portland Trails.

David “Butch” Sullins became the Interim Finance Director in August, and Kathy Finnell took on the Director of Finance role in December. We are grateful for their expertise!

John Babin has worked as a Longfellow House guide since 2007 and is now the Visitor Services Manager.

Larissa Vigue Picard is now the Director of Education and Interpretation. Larissa has been with MHS since  2009, formerly as the Community Partnership Coordinator.

Dani Fazio, Creative Manager, has been with MHS since 2008. She worked as the Image Services Coordinator (and part time Design Coordinator) until September when she joined the Department of Institutional Advancement.

OTHER NEWS AND EVENTS

  • Nancy Noble’s blog post on our menu collection garnered interest from the food editor of the Portland Press Herald, who wrote this article about the menus for her column on September 11. Stay tuned for our next lecture hall exhibit, From Chop Suey to Washington Pie: Maine Menus, opening on Friday, May 7 during the First Friday Art Walk (also happens to be Maine Restaurant Week!)
  • Civil War Symposium a Success! More than 170 people attended Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium at USM’s Hannaford Hall on Saturday, April 27. The event was the kick-off to more than two years of programming as part of a joint Civil War project between Maine Historical Society and Maine Humanities Council.
  • Local History Local Schools: on March 27 we hosted a Local History Local Schools celebration. The partnership program, based on the Wired! museum exhibit, involves in-classroom visits from MHS educators as well as a trip to the museum, research and art-making, and a family celebration displaying student work in the museum at the project’s culmination. Students from Wentworth School in Scarborough learned about electricity and created art in the style of graphic novels on themes around electricity and power.

To all our members, Trustees, donors, staff, volunteers, and friends: thank you for helping make 2013 a historic year for MHS!

Stay connected with MHS:

Become a member, sign up for our e-connection, join the conversation on Facebook, get inspired on Pinterest, and be sure to bookmark this blog.

Notes from the Archives: Sheet Music

by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

42025Maine Historical Society’s sheet music collection has a variety of connections to the state of Maine. Some connections are more obvious than others, such as appearing in the title or lyrics–When the silv’ry moon is shining o’er the hills of dear old Maine, as an example.

We collect other songs that were published in Maine towns, such as Bath, Dexter, and West Baldwin. Still others we collect because of their association with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, our resident poet. Hermann Kotzchmarr, a well-known organist and composer in the city of Portland, as well as other Maine musicians, composed some of the pieces.

The collection also contains high school fight songs or marches (Portland High School and Deering High School), songs related to Maine landmarks (Mansion House in Poland Spring) or ships (U.S.S. Castine), and songs related to Maine characters such as Rudy Vallee (Westbrook boy who made good in Hollywood), Mellie Dunham (fiddler from Norway, Maine), and Ken MacKenzie (Maine country music star).

Sometimes the association with Maine is as simple as featuring one of the symbols of Maine: lobster! Sheet music also illuminates the social issues of the day, such as unemployment, prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, and war.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite pieces of sheet music:

“There’s a green hill out in Flanders (there’s a green hill up in Maine)” by Allan J. Flynn (New York : Al Piantoadosi & Co., 1917) has the lyrics:

There’s a Green hill out in Flanders, There’s a Green hill up in Maine,

Under one lies a son, Neath the sod and the dew,

Sleeping where he fell for the Red White and Blue,

On the other there’s a mother, in a little cottage waiting all in vain;

So here’s a tear for a brave heart in Flanders,

and a cheer for a brave heart in Maine.

This song reaches out to both sides of the Atlantic during World War I’s Battle of Passchendaele, where the Belgian region of Flanders saw great devastation and casualties, including the American soldiers, 368 of whom are buried in the Flanders Field American Cemetery.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems were often set to music, many of which appear in our collections, such as “Deering’s Woods,” “The bedouin’s prayer,” “Stars of the summer night,” and the ever popular “The Rainy Day.” We also have a piece of music with Longfellow’s portrait on the cover, “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March.” It’s actually a tune written by Frederic Chopin, who died about 35 years before Longfellow, so it appears that this march was not written for the poet, but was issued to commemorate the poet’s death in 1882.

The collection contains “Ken MacKenzie’s favorite songs of the range and hill country” (New York : Peer International Group, 1941-). Ken MacKenzie (1918-1993) was a long time Maine country music star. He was on the radio at WGAN (Portland, Maine, radio station), and later on television. This folio of 15 songs, including the familiar “You are my sunshine,” also contains photographs and information about Ken and his country music world.

42242The song of the Kennebec, with words and music by Alice E. Weston (New York : C & C Music Printing Corp., 1913) showcases a river in Maine: the Kennebec. Alice Weston grew up in Madison, Maine, and is represented in our Weston Farm Homestead collection (Coll. 2650), which includes letters, photographs, and school materials. Alice taught music before her marriage to Henry Todd, and also apparently composed. The song describes “My old home near and mirrored clear, By bonny Kennebec.” Indeed, the Kennebec River does flow right next to the Weston Homestead in Madison. MHS has a CD of her granddaughter, Irene Kirby, singing this song (CD 126).

A work published in Bath, Maine, highlights an issue of the day: unemployment. “Out of work : (new sensational ballad), song and chorus,” with words and music by Alice Hawthorne (Bath, Me. : Thos. P.I. Macoun & Co., 1877) has the following lyrics: “Out of work without a penny, Pleading help before thy door, / Without friends among the many, Look with pity on the poor.”

The chorus (and verses) of “Out of work” reflects the times – in 1877 more than three million people were unemployed. The composition was created by Septimus Winner, who used the pseudonym “Alice Hawthorne,” among many others, to write songs such as “Oh where, oh where, has my little dog gone?” and “Listen to the mockingbird.”

42016No Maine collection would be complete with the music of Rudy Vallee, including “Stein song : University of Maine,” with words by Lincoln Colcord ; music by E. A. Fenstad ; arranged by A.W. Sprague ; new arrangement by Rudy Vallee (New York : Carl Fischer, c1930). “Drink to Maine, our Alma Mater, The college of our hearts always.”

Rudy Vallee (1901-1986) figures prominently in our sheet music collection with at least five pieces of music that either have him on the cover, writing lyrics, and/or composing or arranging music. In this version of the well-known University of Maine “Stein song,” Rudy both appears on the cover and as the author of the new arrangement. Lincoln Colcord (1883-1947), who wrote the words, was known for many things beyond this song. He and his sister Joanna grew up on sailing ships captained by his father, Lincoln Alden Colcord, and later he founded the Penobscot Marine Museum. He also authored and compiled books and short stories, mostly about the sea. Lincoln and his fellow student Adelbert Sprague created this song while students at the University of Maine, ca. 1904-1905. Rudy Vallee graduated from the University of Maine in 1925.

And then there’s the famous symbol of Maine: a lobster. “Thanks for the lobster,” by Caddigan and Story (Boston, Mass.: O. E. Story, 1913) contains the words:

Thanks for the Lobster, the cute little Lobster that you handed over to me

I must confess you’re slow when you let that good thing go.

My father and mother, my brother and sister

Were never like he was to me

He’s a red hot, hard shell, rural creation

But his diamond pin saved me from starvation. …

Reading between the lines, this appears to be a nonsensical song about Mabel and Hiram and a courtship of sorts.

42018There are two works relating to Norway, Maine’s Mellie Dunham, the famous fiddler: “Rippling waves : waltz” by Mellie Dunham (New York : Carl Fischer Inc., c1926) and “My dear old Norway home” by A.B. Crosman (Portland, Me. : Crosman & Mitchell, 1926), which is dedicated to Mellie Dunham. Alanson Mellen “Mellie” Dunham (1853-1953) was born in Norway, Maine, and was known as “Maine’s champion fiddler.” (For more on Mellie, including other examples of his  music, see Norway Historical Society’s Maine Memory exhibit, Remembering Mellie Dunham: Snowshoe Maker and Fiddler.)

Celebrating winter, we have “The snow train” with words by Jesse E. Richardson, and music by V. Bernice Richardson (Waterville, Me. : Mr. and Mrs. Jesse E. Richardson, 1946)

Let’s take a ride on the Snow Train … Where we’ll have fun to-day

Let’s take a ride on the Snow Train, to mountains far a-way

Let’s take a day to be hap-py … Where all the crowd is gay

We will go up where the snow-peaks, Will thrill us while we play …

Jesse E. Richardson, shown on the cover in the cab of a diesel locomotive, was a Maine Central Railroad engineer from Waterville, Maine. He wrote the song with his wife, V. Bernice Richardson. The back cover has an advertisement for the “Sunday snow trains to North Conway and Intervale,” including the schedule. “This sheet music was given to you with the compliments of the Boston and Maine Railroad.”

Other winter themed sheet music in the collection include “The Winter Waltz” (with a picture of Guy Lombardo on the cover), and “Those snow capped hills of Maine.”

A humorous take on prohibition can be found in “Where do they go when the row, row, row : three miles away from the shore” with lyric by Bert Kalmar and Geo. Jessel, and music by Harry Ruby (New York : Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1920)

Ever since they passed the prohibition law

I’ve puzzled over something that I saw

I’ve noticed lately where-ever I go

Most everybody is learning to row

This is what’s getting my goat

Everyone’s buying a boat.

Where do they go when they row, row, row

Three miles away from the shore?

Why do they go there and what do they get?

They go out dry and they come back so wet.

Why do they load up with dough, dough, dough?

They must have something in store,

Why do you see empty bottles afloat?

And why do they all come back rocking the boat?

Where do they go when they row, row, row,

Three miles away from shore?

While not necessarily Maine related, the theme could certainly apply to this coastal state in 1920. Maine was legally dry from 1851 until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Boats that were anchored three miles offshore were out of state jurisdiction, so they could legally carry liquor.

42212On a dark note (no pun intended) we find “It’s your land and my land” with words by F. Farnsworth, and music by Milton Charles Bennett (Portland, Me. : F. Eugene Farnsworth, 1923). Maine Ku Klux Klan King Kleagle F. Eugene Farnsworth (1868-1926) wrote the words and Milton Charles Bennett composed the music.

The sheet music, published in 1923, includes this dedication on the cover, “To the lovers of Law and Order, Peace and Justice, we send greetings and to the shades of the valiant, venerated Dead, we gratefully and affectionately — Dedicate this Song!” The last line of the chorus is, “We’ll fight to keep it our land, America the Free.”

The Klan was active in Maine and much of the rest of the country in the 1920s. The focus of the activity in Maine was Roman Catholics and immigrants, although the small African-American population was sometimes targeted.

Not all of our sheet music is thematic or social. Some are just pretty pieces that give us an escape from the reality of the day. The sheet music that will be showcased in the lecture hall at Maine Historical Society from November, 2013, through January, 2014, relates to the idea of Maine and New England as a place to come home to, a place of nostalgia – no matter how far one roams. Whether keeping warm inside by the hearth, or outside enjoying ice skating, skiing, and the winter scenery, Maine, for many, embodies the idea of winter being a time to return to family roots, and the familiar scenes and traditions of youth.

44479Whichever holidays you celebrate – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s Day — the winter season can generate complex emotions, happiness tinged with melancholy, hopefulness mingled with yearning. These themes are expressed in the lyrics are perfect for this time of year when many come home for the holidays, if only in their mind.

To see all of our catalogued sheet music collection search the Minerva catalog for “sheet music” as either a subject heading or call number.

From the Collections: Menus

by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

If you’re any kind of food history buff, the Maine Historical Society Library is the place for you. Recently, two wonderful menus came across my desk.

IMG_0017IMG_0018One was for the Worster Hotel in Hallowell, built in 1832. This menu, dated September 7, 1949, includes everything from omelets to “Casserole of fresh lobster a la Maine” and many in-between, such as “Broiled sugar cured ham steak” and “Roast stuffed native chicken with giblet gravy.” First courses include “iced celery” and “chicken broth with celery and macaroni” while vegetables include “cream whipped potatoes” and “cream green peas.”

IMG_0020One could choose one dessert, such as “apple pie with American cheese,” “Baked Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream,” and the ever popular “fresh blueberry pie.” The prices are interesting to ponder, too, with the most expensive item on the menu being the “broiled western sirloin steak” at $2.50.

The second menu I had the privilege of cataloging was for the “Egyptian dining room” at the Eastland Hotel in Portland, which has this claim: “This dining room is believed to be the first, if not the only public dining room of its type in America, – the figures represented as being carved in stone after the ancient Egyptian manner.”

IMG_0011IMG_0013The menu, dated January 13, 1939, has nothing Egyptian about it, however. The offerings are more traditional New England dishes of the day, such as the plate luncheons of items such as “Roast beef hash, poached egg, Harvard beets” (65 cents) and items “cooked to order,” such as “Fried chicken, cream gravy, corn fritter, new peas, potato” (90 cents).

Desserts on this menu include “lime jelly,” “stewed prunes,” and “raised cinnamon doughnuts.” Shellfish includes oysters, lobster, scallops, and clams. “Cheese with crackers” comes with a choice of which kind of cheese one may want, including American cheese, Philadelphia cream cheese, Swiss cheese, Roquefort cheese, and camembert cheese (all for different prices). Salads include “Banana cream cheese and nut,” and sandwiches include “Ox tongue sandwich.” Finally a choice of beverages includes iced chocolate, “Horlick’s malted milk,” and a pot of “Kaffee Hag” (apparently a brand of decaffeinated coffee).

IMG_0022
Back cover of the Worster Hotel menu

This is just a sampling of the menus that can be found in our library. By searching “menus” as a subject heading, one can find menus from Peaks Island, York Harbor, Rangeley Lakes, Belgrade, Greenville, and many other destinations. Some are more recent, such as the many menus collected for the Chinese American collection (Coll. 2080), including Chinese restaurants from Mexico to Millinocket and in-between (and beyond). Many more are not catalogued individually, but can be found in a browsable collection in our ephemera section.

The menus at MHS are a fascinating resource to show us what people ate in times past, whether fancy dinners or comfort food for travelers. Some of the offerings are more familiar to us, or at least within nostalgic memory, but others perplex and mystify. All will definitely make you either hungry or thankful that such items are no longer served.