FALLEN HEROES: Maine’s Jewish Sailors and Soldier Boys

By Susan Cummings-Lawrence
Click here to learn & see more via a Maine Memory Network online exhibit

It seems almost too good to be true that I am going to take an active part in a big European war.[i] ~ H H Munro “Saki” 1870-1916

Thirty-four young Maine Jewish men died in the service of their country in the two World Wars. This project — including a Maine Memory Network exhibit  is meant to say a little something about some of them. More than just names on a public memorial marker or grave stone, these men were getting started in adult life. They had newly acquired high school and college diplomas. They had friends, families and communities who loved and valued them. They had goals and dreams. (SC-L)

In his introduction to Poetry of the World Wars,[ii] Michael Foss describes differences in the language of the Great War poets from that of their compatriots of World War II. WWI  rage, grief, disgust; WWII despair and futility. How our Fallen Heroes would have expressed their experiences, we probably will never know. We have some photographs and letters that give us hints of who these young men were, but it is impossible to say who they would have become. What memories, what proud stories, what haunted dreams would have informed their ordinary lives? It is tempting to acknowledge, and even indulge in, the horror and despair of these poets and pass over the enthusiasm of others who served. There were many men for whom nothing else in their long lives ever came close to their war experiences. In some cases, that was a curse, and in others a treasure.

Sad to say, the young men whose lives we attempt to glimpse in this project all died very young. Few marriages, very few children and no grandchildren, only budding careers — if any at all  no synagogue presidencies, no survivor’s poems. We have only a handful of letters that offer anything other than news attempting to cheer anxious parents and siblings. There are some, written on government letterhead, that describe the circumstances under which the son or brother was killed, or that detail efforts to relocate their bodies from far away to Maine Jewish cemeteries. Many of the photos show the men before they were old enough to leave on their final journey, or, in uniformed groups, taken from too great a distance, their faces mostly indistinguishable from their pals, leaving descendants to guess at their uncles’ or great grandfathers’ identities. Family stories are scarce.

Approximately forty years before the births of our earliest Fallen Heroes, and sixty years before the entry of the United States into WWI, an organization that became the Jewish War Veterans of the USA was formed. The story of its origin provides some understanding of the socio-political climate  then and now  affecting American Jews and military service. Local Posts were eventually created all over the country, including several in Maine. The story of Portland, Maine’s Jacob Cousins Post #99 does not necessarily help us understand those who were lost, but we can learn something about those who survived, and those who served in the military, both before and after them. Further, the formation of its parent, the national Hebrew Union Veterans, does bring to light an aspect of 19th century anti-Semitism that continues world-wide today.

For centuries, Jews have been regarded around the world as cowardly and disloyal to their countries of residence during and post-war. In the US, after the Civil War and continuing through the 20th century, an attempt to redefine public opinion arose. In History Lessons,[iii] Beth Wenger explores aspects of the self-construction of the new American Jew that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the chapter, “War Stories: Jewish Patriotism on Parade,” she quotes various sources whose authors point out, for example, that Jews coming to the US from Europe had centuries of catastrophes weighing on their new lives,[iv] or perhaps in some cases a particular ardor for revenge against Spain, as motives for their participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.[v] Moreover, those experiences, and more recent ones endured in European wars, such as attempts by Russia to convert Jews, through conscription, to Russian Orthodoxy,[vi] inspired many to endeavor to create an improved, “more masculine,” loyal Jewish male who would readily serve in his new country’s armed forces. Wenger’s assertion is that while certain aspects of these endeavors surely were defensive, mainly they were part of a broader campaign to construct the new Jewish American.[vii]  As will likely be obvious to anyone who reads the news in 2015, these efforts almost certainly did far more to further the creation of the new American Jewish image than they did to persuade detractors of Jewish loyalty.

Long after the early 20th century immigrant strivings at least to moderate this particular manifestation of anti-Semitism, it persists. The handy thing about a stereotype is that it can be reversed so as to double its utility; besides being condemned as disloyal, Jews have been criticized for being too loyal  to each other. More recently, they are viewed as being too loyal to Israel. This trope has surged world-wide in the past year, subsequent to the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

Recently, the online news service, The Intercept, reported on a court ruling regarding US government surveillance of Muslim-Americans; it seems no one is exempt from this particular assigned status of political otherness. “In its ruling, the court (Third Circuit Court of Appeals) took pains to position the mass-surveillance of Muslim-Americans within a broader historical context of misguided suspicion and hostility towards minority communities in the United States. In a strongly worded opinion, the court wrote that, “We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II.” Citing another decision, it added that “we are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight — that ‘loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not race, creed, or color.’”[viii]

In an effort to combat such accusations of cowardice, loyalty and disloyalty, in 1896 “a group of Jewish Civil War veterans organized the Hebrew Union Veterans, an organization that was later to become the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV-USA). The organization was founded as a direct result of slander that Jews had not participated in the military during the War Between the States. What concerned Jewish veterans then, and throughout America’s history, concerns Jewish veterans today. Jews must still defend themselves against the canards of anti-Semites who continue to declare that Jews have not served in the US Armed Forces.” [ix]

The JWV-USA, the oldest veterans’ organization in the US, currently has about 37,000 members. Its founding mission stresses the promise that Jews will demonstrate their sincere allegiance and Americanism, among other worthy correctives.

We, citizens of the United States of America, of the Jewish faith, who served in the Wars of the United States of America, in order that we may be of greater service to our country and to one another, associate ourselves together for the following purposes:

To maintain true allegiance to the United States of America; to foster and perpetuate true Americanism; to combat whatever tends to impair the efficiency and permanency of our free institutions; to uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his or her battles wherever unjustly assailed; to encourage the doctrine of universal liberty, equal rights, and full justice to all men and women; to combat the powers of bigotry and darkness wherever originating and whatever their target; to preserve the spirit of comradeship by mutual helpfulness to comrades and their families; to cooperate with and support existing educational institutions and establish educational institutions, and to foster the education of ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, and our members in the ideals and principles of Americanism; to instill love of country and flag, and to promote sound minds and bodies in our members and our youth; to preserve the memories and records of patriotic service performed by the men and women of our faith; to honor their memory and shield from neglect the graves of our heroic dead.[x]

In September, 1935, the Jacob Cousins Post #99 of the JWV-USA, named for the first Jew in Portland killed in WWI, was dedicated in a ceremony on the Eastern Promenade, overlooking the islands of Casco Bay. Many dignitaries were present, including state representatives, Portland’s mayor and JWV national officers, as well as 2,000 other people.  The Portland Press Herald reported, “Colonel Mendelsohn, who lost an arm in the Spanish-American War, said that the patriotism is the guiding star of the American Hebrew. ‘In deeds of daring in the World War the Jewish soldier was second to none.’”[xi]

“’Jacob Cousins left a torch for us to carry.’ With these words, Jean Mathis of New York, one of the America’s outstanding World War heroes, epitomized the sentiment expressed by several speakers Sunday afternoon when more than 2,000 persons gathered on the Eastern Promenade esplanade to assist the Jacob Cousins Post, Jewish War Veterans, in the dedication of a memorial boulder. It was presented to David Sivovlos Commander of the Post. “ “‘Jacob Cousins gave his life to make the world safe for democracy and today we want no Nazism, no Fascism, no communism. We want pure Americanism.’” [xii]   Exemplifying American Jews’ desire to overcome doubt in their fellow citizens, Mathis took his final sentence directly from the JWV mission statement.

Cousins is one of five Jewish soldiers to have a veterans’ post named for him. The other posts are the Milton J. Ward Post JWV #484 in Auburn; the Osher-Edelstein JWV Post in Biddeford, in honor of Louis Osherowitz and Albert Edelstein; JWV Post #507 in Bangor; and, the Martin-Klein American Legion Post #133 in Fort Kent, which was named after Jewish soldier Kenneth Klein and Franco-American soldier George F. Martin. These young men were among the first to volunteer and the first two soldiers from the Ft. Kent area to be killed. They were members of Company D of the 103 Infantry and were killed May 10, 1918 on the Meuse Argonne Defensive sector. [xiii]

In Portland, charter members of the Jacob Cousins Post include Abraham Weisman, David Sivovlos, William Perlin, Leo Golodetz, Lewis Abramson, Harry Weinman, Sam Shrensker, Benjamin Troen, Louis Grinker, Manuel Berenson, Maurice Davis, Abraham Venner, Samuel Ross, Philip Gold, Philip Solomon, Abraham Bernstein, Louis Bernstein and Max Rice.[xiv] In May 1936, an auxiliary was formed; Mrs. Maurice Davis was its first president. Among other projects, the group developed an extensive hospital service for veterans at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Kittery and the Marine Hospital in Portland. [xv] Records detailing Post membership numbers over the years are not available from either Jacob Cousins or the National office. Currently, there are a handful of active members; the two other posts have long been decommissioned.

The activities of the Post focused on the Jewish community of the Greater Portland area. At the time the Post was most active, the community as a whole was most active.  Synagogues were full weekly, as well as for holidays and special events. The Jewish Community Center purchased its new building on Cumberland Avenue in 1938 and was buzzing with community and civic enterprises. After years of fundraising and planning by the Young Women’s Hebrew Association, the Jewish Home for Aged, now The Cedars, opened its doors in 1929. Zionist, civic and literary groups proliferated. After 1935, the Cousins Post was an integral part of the Portland Jewish community scene.  There were flag dedications, Memorial Day worship services and sponsorship of community events, such as Yom HaAtzmaut. In May, 1936, the Post sponsored the first memorial service for Jews who served in the Army and Navy. Attorney Jacob H. Berman spoke on behalf of the Post and Rabbi Mendel Lewittes was the officiant.[xvi]

The Post’s records contain a copy of a letter addressed to Esther Gerber, sister of Jacob Cousins, from Commander Solomon Crasnick, of Portland’s Harold T Andrews Post No. 17, American Legion, dated August 10, 1936. The letter describes the award of an engraved saber to Victor Lebednic, “in memory of Jacob Cousins, who gave his life for his country on the field of honor.” Lebednic was the outstanding Citizens Military Training Camp candidate for that year. [xvii]

In 1935, at the well-attended Post dedication on the Eastern Promenade, “State Rep. Udell Bramson, representing Gov. Louis J Brann declared that ‘the memory of this occasion will remain throughout the history of Maine.’” [xviii] This has, of course, proved not to be true. The aim of the Fallen Heroes project is to have us consider, even fleetingly, the men who founded the Jacob Cousins Post, its story, which is almost concluded, and those lost men whose youthful faces look out at us from faded photographs.

At least thirty-four Maine Jewish men were killed on active duty during WWI and WWII. Some were killed on the battlefield, one died of meningitis, one drowned at sea, one teenager was killed by a train while on guard duty, one or two died later of wounds. All of them were serving their country, regardless of the manner of death. It is good to remember that two thirds of the 750,000[xix] Civil War deaths were the result of disease.[xx] We have accepted in recent years that soldiers who kill themselves, either on duty or later in life, related to the trauma of their service, should also be considered fatalities. Many who served in the Vietnam era conflict have been dying for decades of illnesses associated with exposure to toxic herbicides, such as Agent Orange, that had been deployed as weapons.[xxi]  We know that chlorine, phosgene and mustard gasses caused illness and deaths not only on the battlefield; deaths occurred among both former soldiers and home front chemical workers after WWI. [xxii] And, of course, countless tales about some doomed soul with “shell shock” in books, films and hushed family whispers are woven throughout the history of US wars and conflicts. But we do not know how Maine Jewish soldiers were affected in these ways and so those stories will not appear.

In the instance of Jacob Cousins, as with many others of the thirty-four, descendants, personal stories, documents and photographs are “lost.” The Portland Press Herald article from 1935 cited above includes a number of photographs of the dedication event and of Cousins, but the original glass plate or other negatives cannot be traced. A portrait of Jacob is depicted on the memorial stone placed on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, and his military photo can be seen in the news article, so at least we know what he looked like. But no photos of Jacob Cousins are included in the Fallen Heroes exhibit. The same is true with Louis Osherowitz and Albert Edelstein. After their deaths they were important enough to have been memorialized in their communities by having a JWV Post named for them.  Unfortunately, images of them cannot be found and no other information was available.

From Ft. Kent and Van Buren to York County, and from the coast to the White Mountains, young Jewish men served in WWI and WWII. Nationally, 250,000 Jewish men enlisted in WWI. Although Jews were only 3% of the American population, they represented 5% of all those in the armed forces. [xxiii] During WWII, over 500,000 American Jews served.[xxiv] We know that Maine gave its share of Jewish soldiers; among our thirty-four casualties are two sets of brothers: the Solomon’s, Frank and Charles  David served and survived  and the Klein’s, Samuel and Kenneth, twins, who are buried together in a Bangor cemetery. Norway high school student, Peter Klain, was one of seven siblings, out of eleven, who served in WWI. Sam Citrin was an attorney, newly married, and stationed a mere five miles from his Portland home when he died. Another was graduated from Harvard, attended Harvard Business School, worked in his family business briefly and then enlisted.

Although these men left few mementoes of their too brief lives and of the contributions to their wars, that is all the more reason we think they deserve a memorial that is more than a name engraved on a stone. We want the general community to be made aware of  and given an additional opportunity to pay their respects to  these young men and their place in the history of both the United States and Maine.

“…My friend you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


[i] Cross, T. 1988. An International Anthology of Writers, Poets & Playwrights: The Lost Voices of World War I. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
[ii] Foss, M. Ed., 1990. Poetry of the World Wars. Peter Bedrick Books, New York.
[iii] Wenger, B. 2010. History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage. Princeton University Press.
[iv] Ibid. p. 98
[v] Ibid. pp. 100-103
[vi] Ibid. p. 97
[vii] Ibid. p. 96
[viii] Hussein, M. The Intercept. October 13, 2015.
[ix] http://www.jwv.org  Jewish War Veterans of the USA website.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Portland Press Herald. Portland, Maine. 1935.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] http://www.americanlegionpost133.org
[xiv] Band, B. 1955.  Portland Jewry: Its Growth and Development. Portland, ME: Jewish Historical Society. p. 58.
[xv] Ibid., p. 56
[xvi] Lewiston Evening Journal, Lewiston, Maine. May 18, 1936.
[xvii] https://research.archives.gov/id/542449 of the National Archives for more information about the Citizens Military Training Camp and many interesting photographs.
[xviii] Portland Press Herald. op cit. 1935.
[xix] Gugliotta, G.  4-2-2012. New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll. New York Times.
[xx] Burns, R. 2012. Death and the Civil War. PBS American Experience.
[xxi]  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/  The Veterans Administration website lists 14 classes of presumptive diseases believed to be linked to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
[xxii] Fitzgerald, G. 2008. Chemical Warfare and Medical Response during World War I. Am J Public Health.  98(4): 611-625
[xxiii] Fredman and Falk. Jews in American Wars.  p.78. In Wenger.
[xxiv] Bureau of War Records of the Jewish Welfare Board. American Jews in World War II: The Story of 550,000 Fighters for Freedom. New York: Dial Press, 1947. In Wenger.

Magical History Tour 2016

2016_MHT and LCP logos JPG

Maine Historical Society’s biggest event of the year is this weekend! Taking place Saturday, May 21 from 10am-4pm, the Magical History Tour is a self-guided exploration of historical places in Portland that are not usually open to the public, with access granted to a dozen little-known gems downtown and beyond that many have never seen, and maybe didn’t even know exist. The mystery sites will be revealed at Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party on Friday, May 20 at the U.S. Custom House. Located adjacent to Portland’s waterfront, this historically rich and mysterious building is usually closed to the public, but not for our guests.

During the party, auctioneer Thomas Saturley, President of Tranzon Auction Properties, will preside over a live auction – see the list below so you can hit the ground bidding! Guests will also enjoy a silent auction featuring food, travel, games, and adventures. Get excited!

Isla Mujeres_1Week stay in Mexico house on Isla Mujeres (Value: $2,065)
Located on idyllic 4 1⁄2 mile long Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) and a quick 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Villa Adioso is a charming 2-bedroom 2-bath private home with complete kitchen, roof-top palapa (with 2 hammocks), enclosed green and lush courtyard with fountain, refreshing plunge pool, washer/dryer, and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and The Bay of Mujeres (watch both the sunrise and sunset from the house). Rated one the 8 Best Islands in the World for Food by Islands Magazine in 2007 and it’s only gotten better since. Walking distance (12-15 minutes) from ferry, beaches, and downtown.

halloween-baptism-christmas-party-5423Greek Dinner for 12 (Value: $1,500)
Two Greek Gals (MHS Trustees Jean Gulliver and Penny Carson) invite you to enjoy Greek wine, food, dessert, and music in a Falmouth home.

Custom Chef’s Dinner For 8 (Value: $2,100)
Enjoy dinner prepared by Chef Candice Lee, a 2007 graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC having been taught by chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner, among many others. Choose from three menus comprised of four courses with wine pairings preceded by cocktails. The chic and comfortable setting leads to excellent conversation.

HomerforWeb5A Day in Prouts Neck (Value: $750)
Spend a day in Prouts Neck, a summer enclave for generations of families in Scarborough. Tour the historic studio and home of Winslow Homer. Take in the beautiful ocean views on the Cliff Walk, a one-mile rocky walk along the shoreline. Afterwards, walk down to the Black Point Inn for dinner.

L.L.Bean Manatee Kayak (Value: $580)
L.L.Bean’s bestselling Manatee kayak is a stable, comfortable recreational kayak for calm to lightly windy conditions, boasting features typically seen only on more expensive boats. A full 10 feet in length and with a sleek hull shape, its roomy cockpit accommodates paddlers of most sizes. The Manatee tracks better than similar kayaks without sacrificing stability and speed.

Sugarloaf Ski Vacation & Scenic Flight ($1,640)
Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.33.57 AMEnjoy Maine’s premier ski resort for four days and three nights in December, January, February or March for the 2016-17 season. The ski-in/ski-out Commons II condo sleeps six people – two bedrooms with king beds and one room with two twin beds. This three-level vacation home also features a kitchen, living and dining spaces, two bathrooms, and a fireplace. Located in close proximity to the lifts and fitness center, and an easy walk to the base lodge. A great winter getaway for you and your friends or family! Mutually convenient dates to be arranged with the owner. PLUS! Enjoy a half-hour scenic flight from Sugarloaf Aviation giving you an opportunity to enjoy an unmatched perspective of this amazingly rugged part of Maine.

Notes from the Archives: Tales of the Titanic

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I recently came across a t.l.s (typed letter signed, to use manuscript-speak) tucked into the back pocket of a volume of the Somerset Railway records. While researching the author of the letter, I plunged down a rabbit hole of a tale that led me to a Titanic story involving a Maine family.

Titanic - Coll. S-7859The letterhead said “Mrs. Percival W. White, 275 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine.” The letter was signed by Edith F. White, and written to “Edward,” dated January 14, 1930. Edith asks Edward for help figuring out her accounts, probably for her taxes. In the letter she mentions “the four children.”

Who was this Edith Frazar Wheeler White? She was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1863. She married Percival Wayland White and had two children, Percival Jr. and Richard Frazar. Percival Sr. was a prominent and successful cotton manufacturer in Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts. Around 1908 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, to a home called “The Pines,” while their son Richard attended Bowdoin College. To celebrate Richard’s graduation, Percival took him on a trip to England. Percival’s hobby was sailing on maiden voyages. Unfortunately he chose to sail home with Richard on the Titanic, never to be seen again.

But who were the four children that Edith mentions in her letter? This puzzled me. I discovered that Edith and Percival’s other son, Percival Jr., and his wife Mary Este Cliff had four children, the oldest of which was Matilda, who was living with Edith at the time of the sinking of the Titanic. When Mary died in 1926 Edith adopted all four of the children, even though Percival Jr. lived until 1972. Matilda went on to become a pioneering sociologist who was the first female full professor at Bowdoin College.

For more see this excellent story by Michele Albion, which originally appeared in Bowdoin, the Bowdoin College magazine, with photographs.

See the Minerva record describing the letter.

Notes from the Archives: Carriers’ Addresses Broadsides

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

A recent find was a discovery of “Carriers’ addresses.” According to the Brown University Library:

Carriers’ addresses were published by newspapers, usually on January 1, and distributed in the United States for more than two centuries. The custom originated in England and was introduced here during colonial times. The newsboys delivered these greetings in verse each New Year’s Day and the customers understood that a tip was expected. The poems, often anonymous, describe the events of the past year, locally, regionally, and nationally, and end with a request for a gratuity for the faithful carrier. Often the poem referred to the carrier’s diligence and hardships during winter weather. Illustrated with wood-engravings and decorative borders, carriers’ addresses are distinctive examples of popular publishing in nineteenth century America.

We have at least four of these carriers’ addresses in our broadside collection. They were written for the patrons of the Portland Advertiser, Salem Gazette, Christian Mirror, and Eastern Argus. Of particular interest is the address related to the Civil War. One is an ode written byBroadside 202 Carriers' address Horace, at the command of Augustus Caesar. With the exception of this ode, all the carriers’ addresses personalize the verse with humor and good will (and a little bit of begging for a tip):

“A Happy New Year is the Carrier’s call
To our kindly patrons and readers all

And now that you have read my lay,
What does the Carrier want, you’ll say.
For all the past year your Mirror I’ve brought,
And tossed it each week on the steps as I ought:
I’ve come in the cold and come in the heat,
I’ve come in the rain and the snow and the sleet—
When the keen March winds and the April rains
Shook and rattled your window-panes,
And waked wide up with the pattering sound
The crocus and snow-drop asleep in the ground.
I’ve come in the summer when scarcely a breeze
Stirred the leaves on the dusty trees,
Through all the heat of the scorching sun
My work I’ve always faithfully done,
And when October’s bracing air
Comes to paint the leaves and the trees to bare,
And instead of the rose, the gentian blows
With its beautiful blue and fringes rare—
And when still alter old Jack Frost comes
And pinches my ears, and my fingers numbs,
Still I go through the cold and the snow,
Bravely along I trudge,
And your Mirror I leave in time I believe,
As all of you rightly can judge,
What does the Carrier want, do you know?
He wants a quarter, a half, or so;
So feel in your pocket and pull out your purse,
The want of the loss will make you feel worse—
And to close this somewhat lengthy verse,
A happy New Year with merry good cheer
Is the Carrier’s New Year’s call
(Carrier’s address, January 1, 1866. Written for the Christian Mirror)

For more information see the Minerva records for Broadside 200-203.

Our newly published A Bibliography of Maine Imprints, 1785-1820 by Glenn B. Skillin also has information on carriers’ addresses printed in Maine.


Notes from the Archives: Rev. Henry Otis Thayer’s Volume on the Discovery of America

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

Henry Otis Thayer copy

Henry Otis Thayer

Plucked from the backlog is a bound volume of six pamphlets, along with manuscript and scrapbook pages, regarding the early discovery of America by the Vikings. This volume was probably created by Rev. Henry Otis Thayer (1832-1927). Thayer, a clergyman by training (he attended the Bangor Theological Seminary), was a passionate historian, and served for a time as secretary and librarian for the Maine Historical Society. His writings on Maine history are prolific.

This volume, entitled Americana Antiqua. Scripta Historica et Selecta, contains these pamphlets:

  • John Cabot’s landfall in 1497 and the site of Norumbega : a letter to Chief-Justice Daly, president of the American Geographical Society / by Eben Norton Horsford. Cambridge [Mass.] : J. Wilson and Son, 1886.
  • “The Northmen” manuscript, and scrapbook pages of newspaper clippings from the Evening Transcript, July 5, 1888, entitled “The Norsemen on the North Shore.”
  • Dwellings of the saga-time in Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland / by Cornelia Horsford. Washington, D.C. : Judd & Detweiler, printers, 1898.
  • The present status of pre-Columbian discovery of America by Norsemen / by Hon. James Phinney Baxter. Washington, D.C. : Gov. Print. Office, 1894.
  • Vinland and its ruins : some of the evidence that Northmen were in Massachusetts in pre-Columbian days / by Cornelia Horsford. New York : Appleton, 1899.
  • Ruins of the saga time: being an account of travels and explorations in Iceland in the summer of 1895 / by Thorsteinn Erlingsson, on behalf of Miss Cornelia Horsford. London : D. Nutt, 1899.
  • In commemoration of the millenary anniversary of the death of King Alfred the Great, November 12, 1901. [Portland, Me.] : Maine Historical Society, 1901.
Henry Otis Thayer's The Northmen copy

“The Northmen” manuscript

The pamphlets by Cornelia Horsford particularly intrigued me, as she obviously knew Henry Otis Thayer. Dwellings of the saga-time in Iceland, Greenland, and Vineland was inscribed to Thayer from Cornelia Horsford. In her Vinland and its ruins her calling card is glued onto the title page. The inscription reads, “With the compliments of,” and below that is printed, “Miss Cornelia Horsford, 27 Craigie Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.” Coincidentally at this time Cornelia lived in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s neighborhood in Cambridge, although several years after Longfellow’s death in 1882. Ruins of the saga time, which is associated with Cornelia, also has her calling card glued onto an inside page.


Eben Norton Horsford

So, who was Cornelia Horsford, and how did she come to be an authority on this subject? Cornelia’s father, Eben Norton Horsford, was the author of the first book in this volume, John Cabot’s landfall in 1497. Horsford was an American scientist who is best known for his reformulation of baking powder, his interest in Viking settlements in America, and the monuments he built to Leif Erikson. He taught at Harvard and was a generous supporter of higher education for women, which is probably why his daughter Cornelia assisted him in his research about visits to North America by the Vikings. After his death in 1893 Cornelia carried on his interest. At the time of the presentation of her books to Rev. Thayer, he was living in Portland and involved in the Maine Historical Society. It would be interesting to know if Thayer met Cornelia Horsford in Portland or in Cambridge or elsewhere. Some of Cornelia Horsford’s family papers can be found at the New York University’s Fales Library, so perhaps the answer lies there.


James Phinney Baxter

Two of the pamphlets are of interest for their connection to Maine. James Phinney Baxter authored The present status of pre-Columbian discovery of America by Norsemen. Baxter (1831-1921) was a Portland businessman, historian, civic leader, and benefactor. In 1901, Maine Historical Society published In commemoration of the millenary anniversary of the death of King Alfred the Great, November 12, 1901 which rounds out our collection. The opening address is by Baxter, then President of the Maine Historical Society. It is fascinating to see what the interests of the Society were, over a century ago.

To learn more, search S.C. 1421.

The Legend of Old Father Sawyer

BTS Sawyer Ripley's

By Patrick Ford, Project Archivist, Bangor Theological Seminary Collection

The legend of Rev. John “Old Father” Sawyer was still alive and well in 1958 when this Ripley’s Believe It or Not! panel was featured in newspapers nationwide. Though perhaps best remembered for being a centenarian Sunday school teacher, Sawyer was a seminal proponent of Congregationalism in Maine and a founding trustee of the Maine Charity School, later renamed the Bangor Theological Seminary.

Born in Hebron, Connecticut, in 1755, and raised in New Hampshire, Sawyer fought as a Revolutionary soldier in the Battle of Saratoga. He later attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1785, and soon after started preaching in Orford, New Hampshire. He married, moved to Maine, and was ordained in the Presbyterian faith in 1798, ministering to a congregation in Boothbay. From there he led missions to settlements east of the Kennebec River, preaching in Ballstown (now Jefferson and Whitefield), Robbinston, Pleasant Point, Moose Island, and many others. Without the aid of railroads or steamboats, Sawyer is said to have rowed a boat along rivers and the coastline to reach his preaching venues, which were typically school houses, barns, and the “best rooms” (parlors) of cottages.

In the early 1800s, Sawyer became an Orthodox Congregationalist. In 1814, he, along with Kiah Bayley, Mighill Blood, Jonathan Fisher, and 9 others, founded the Maine Charity School in the Congregationalist tradition. Given Sawyer’s input it is little surprise to learn that the school’s mission was to train men to minister to rural communities of Maine and Northern New England.

BTS Sawyer Pamphlet

He lived his last four decades in Garland, Maine, though many nights were spent away from home, traveling by boat and foot, preaching in the “true Puritan style” well into his 90s. He became so treasured in Maine that a widely distributed pamphlet entitled The Pilgrim of a Hundred Years was published on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Upon his death in 1858 at age 103, Harper’s Weekly published an extensive obituary that attributes Sawyer’s longevity to the fact that, “New England is noted more than the other states for long-lived men.” In a remembrance written for the Portland Transcript on the 25th anniversary of his death, the author, who knew Sawyer, wrote, “He had not time to decay—he had too much work to do to rest upon his oars—there were too many who needed him—such a man could not die if he wished.”

Rev John Sawyer B1

The Rev. John Sawyer indeed lives on at the Maine Historical Society; the Sewall Collection has a daguerreotype and letters related to his work with Indians, and the Bangor Theological Seminary Collection has an extensive file containing articles and correspondence related to Sawyer. The Sewall Collection is currently open to researchers; the Bangor Theological Seminary Collection will be open to researchers in 2016.

Imbued With Hues: Visions of a Colorful Past

ImbuedWithHues_website promo image

Portland artist Patty Allison uses modern technology—Photoshop, Google Street View, as well as the collective wisdom of Reddit users—to make the distant past feel less remote. Since 2013, Allison has been meticulously colorizing photos of Maine life from more than a century ago. In Maine Historical Society’s newest exhibition, Imbued With Hues, Allison’s work gets its first official exhibition.

Working with MHS, Allison has been able to colorize photos from MHS’s extensive collection. She had previously been using publicly available photos from the Library of Congress.

“The awesome thing about collaborating with MHS is that I’ve been able to colorize photos that I’ve never seen before,” Allison said. “And Maine has so much history—it is so exciting to be able to do these.”

By adding a semi-transparent layer of color to each pixel in Photoshop, Allison is able to give a rosy glow to the formerly grey cheeks of Portland’s turn-of-the-century denizens.

Patty Allison Imbued With Hues Opening

Patty Allison at the Imbued With Hues exhibition opening.

“When I finish a photo it’s like going back in time, and I want that photo to look perfect because I’m colorizing someone or something,” Allison said. “I would want the person in the photo to look at it and say, ‘yes, that’s how it looked!’”

Combining extensive research on the colors and textures of a particular place at a particular time—whether a Portland street corner or a Peaks Island ferry landing—with her own artistic interpretation, Allison brings an arresting realism to these old photos.

The Internet, which has made her work possible, has also allowed her work to connect with others—sometimes even the subjects themselves.

“I colorized a photo of a homecoming parade in Florida in 1960,” Allison said. “Somehow, one of the people in the photo found their way to my Facebook page and saw the photo! She was so excited, and said I got all the colors right.”

Allison’s work is on display at MHS through January 30. Prints are also available for purchase!