Memorial Shadows: Photographs on Baxter Boulevard

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By H.H. Price

The early morning sunlight freshened over Back Cove onto Baxter Boulevard as I walked along it in mid-May, 2013. Back Cove is the large salt-water inlet in the middle of Portland, Maine, sometimes called Back Bay, rimmed by a three and a half-mile recreational trail. The Boulevard hugs the trail for one and one-half miles on its western side and until May 2007 was part of U.S. Route 1.

2-HHPIn good weather my husband and I walk daily. We fall out of our third floor apartment to the Boulevard before breakfast and hoof the trail to and fro. Sometimes we walk together, sometimes separately. For a series of May mornings in 2013, I walked alone. It was the sixth month of the Boulevard’s closure to vehicular traffic because of a large federally mandated wastewater project.

Cyclists, runners, and we walkers had been enjoying the road closure to no end. In fact, it led to an ad hoc petition to the city, to close this part of the Boulevard every Sunday afternoon from May to October after the construction was finished so the public from all around could use it as we had. The City Council approved the move, and now we have our own little “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” like the painting by George Seurat.

28HHPThe morning I snapped to and did what I had been thinking of for many days was like all the others, basking in the beauty of the path of old linden trees, the view of the city on its hill, and the special peacefulness as I swung my arms and headed home. I had taken to walking in the middle of the Boulevard without traffic, except occasional trucks with sand or stones and machinery on tractor-trailers. Gradually I paid more attention to the tree shadows on the embankments. Without the hillsides topped by Boulevard houses there would be no “standing” shadows. Wouldn’t they make good pictures? I thought those mornings. But who would care?

32HHP“I care, “ must have been the answer to my interior dialogue that morning, because I pulled out my cell phone and took the first of 50 or so photographs, half that day, moving south; half the next day, moving north. My impulse to start photographing almost exactly half way in the half mile of ideal embankments, backdrops for the shadows, was a surge of living in the moment. If not now, when? If not me, who? I stood in the Boulevard roadway (something no one could have done for any length of time before the closure) with the rising sun behind me and only the shadows in my camera lens. The trees were just beginning to leaf out so their trunks and limbs were perfectly etched against the Irish green hillsides.

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Lindens are not the only variety that flank the Boulevard roadway like silent sentries.  Some are maple or birch. I photographed only the trees on the hilly westerly side of the Boulevard between Dartmouth Street and almost to Chevrus High School. The criteria were that the shadows had to “stand up,” which required a hillside behind them. None of this was calculated on my part.  I was just documenting images –- a place in time — when one could linger and look because there was no traffic. I thought in the future an arborist or Olmsted devotee might take my little album with them as they checked on the historic trees’ development. After all, it had been nearly 100 years since many, if not most, had been planted.

“How do Portland’s tree gardens grow?” one might ask in 20 years.

The European linden trees were first planted on nearby Forest Avenue, Memorial Day, 1920, and then transplanted along with others the next Memorial Day to honor Portland’s veterans who died in World War I. Each tree is dedicated to an individual. 

There is a little quarter-sized metal tag with a number corresponding to the veteran’s name struck into each linden tree at varying heights, on the oldest trees now slightly above where if one were installing them they would be hammered in at eye level.

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One of the tags with a number that represents a Portland veteran killed in WWI

 

33HHPThe history of these trees is fraught with meaning and memory, not only for the veterans’ families but for everyone. They stand as tributes to men who fought in good faith in the First World War, the one to end all wars. Peace, or peace education, is frequently on my mind, and the linden trees are friends to the cause.

James Phinney Baxter, several times Mayor of Portland in the late 1800s and early 1900s, had the vision of linked parks for the city, including the creation of the Back Cove Park we have now. The Cove was grossly polluted and stinky from toxic, industrial run-off.   Portland had the same sanitation and health issues as Boston, with its swamped Back Bay Fens and rivers oozing into the Charles River tidal basin. Baxter visited Boston and the renowned landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted who created green spaces for urban dwellers in many places and a long-term solution for Boston. Olmsted put his son, John Charles Olmsted, and Charles Eliot onto the task of studying what would work in Portland, both to solve the functional problems and eventually to attract a stronger tax base of residences and businesses. It would be twenty years for Baxter’s vision to take root because of politics: when elected he led on the idea; when not in office the plan was shelved.

“All’s well that ends well,” however. Many people with expertise and hard work created the Boulevard, shored up the Cove, planted the memorial trees, made a recreational path, and, finally, a posthumous naming of Back Cove Boulevard in the memory of the man who saw its possibilities: Baxter Boulevard, indeed.

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Thor Nilsen of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department cares for linden trees along Baxter Boulevard in 2017. Nilsen first tended to these trees 50 years ago as a college student.

In 2009, the City of Portland estimated that 250,000 people used the Boulevard’s recreational trail. That number does not begin to reflect how many vehicles drive along the road. One does not have to be a commuter to enjoy the Boulevard. There is a host of cars carrying plain, old-fashioned people who appreciate beauty and a magnificent view.

At night, before the 2008 economic downturn and therefore the reduction of streetlights, the Boulevard wore a necklace of diamond lights that held a great cluster of sparkling gems atop the city’s skyline. The necklace rested on the midnight-blue gown of Cove and sky, nothing quite like it in other cities because this necklace has a clasp. We used to take our grandchildren out as the sun set to get ice cream cones and then parked our car to face and view Portland’s “necklace.”

40HHPMy maternal grandmother, a Vermonter born in 1874, came to Maine the last few summers of her life when she was widowed. She and my aunt, Gramma’s oldest child of her eight children, divided their year between Southeastern Vermont in the winter and Bowdoinham, Maine in the summer, both areas where my aunt was employed.  What Gramma liked best in Maine was Baxter Boulevard. On a summer’s day-off in the late 1940s and early 1950s  my aunt would drive her to see the Boulevard. I imagine they stopped at the brick bridge with built-in seats and outgoing water rushing beneath them. Since Gramma had lived through two World Wars, the deaths of three of her children, and my mother’s debilitating illness, I also imagine she appreciated the meaning of the growing, thriving linden trees.

The linden trees offer beauty with their white flowers, scented essence and busy bees in early summer. Why were lindens chosen? At least two theories have surfaced over the years: linden trees grew all over France and the French people paid dearly with their lives in WWI; and, the Baxter Boulevard designers wished to copy the Unter den Linden in Berlin, a famous city park of the time.

After the linden trees were first planted, veterans looked after replacing them when needed. Now, the trees suffer from automobiles crashing into them, diseases, and for the young ones a mowing too close to the bark and roots like shaving a man’s face by the lips or ears. It appears that more trees on the eastern side of the Boulevard, next to the trail, are either damaged, need care or replacement, or are replaced. I might think that, because I walk on the trail and not the road. That is why I took the photographs May 13 and 14, 2013: The road was there for the standing, the early morning sunshine was a gigantic search-light, and the city engineers and designers  had chosen to build an embankment, or used an already existing hillside, as a fertile green backdrop for the memorial shadows a century later as we remember the Veterans of WWI.

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[H.H. Price has donated the full album of photographs to the collections of Maine Historical Society.]

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Local History Local Schools: Small School

On Thursday, March 5, Small School from South Portland visited our campus to celebrate the completion of their Local History Local Schools study. Fourth grade students from Mr. Stoner’s and Ms. Cloutier’s classes gave presentations and shared their work with fellow classmates, parents, and MHS staff. Their projects will continue to be on display in the Student Gallery, we invite you to come check them out!

Enjoy this slideshow of images from the event:

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13 Amazing Facts About Henry Wadsworth Longfellow You Probably Didn’t Know

At Maine Historical Society, we are preparing for the 208th birthday celebration of America’s beloved poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (born in Portland on February 27, 1807). Join us on Saturday, February 28 at 2:00pm to for his birthday party, eat cake, make hats, and hear his works read by local celebrities! In the meantime, please enjoy these 13 incredible facts about good ol’ Henry. Share your reactions in the comments section or on our Facebook page.


 

13. A one-cent stamp featuring a portrait of Longfellow was first issued on February 16, 1940. A stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of his birth was issued on March 15, 2007.

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12. The Portland Gazette published Henry’s first poem at the age of 13.

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11. Henry was the first American to translate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.

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10. Henry was a major dog lover! The Longfellow family had many pets, but the “the last and greatest of all the dogs was Trap; Trap the Scotch Terrier, Trap the polite, the elegant, sometimes on account of his deportment called Turneydrop, sometimes Louis the Fourteenth” wrote Longfellow.

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9. The often quoted phrases “into every life some rain must fall” and “ships that pass in the night” are lines that originated in two of Henry’s poems.

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8. Henry is the only American to be honored with a bust in Westminster Abbey in London, England. His marble bust was placed in the Poet’s Corner in 1884, and stands among the monuments to other world-renowned authors and poets such as Dickens, Chaucer, and Browning.

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7. Henry graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825 in the same class as Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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6. One of Henry’s students at Harvard University was Henry David Thoreau.

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5. Henry was a fluent speaker of eight different languages–quite the polyglot!

22499 4. Henry was a descendant of Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden. He made his ancestors household names with the publication of his poem The Courtship of Miles Standish in 1857.

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3. At his home in Cambridge, MA, in 1867, Henry hosted Charles Dickens for Thanksgiving dinner. He also wrote the poem, Thanksgiving.

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2. When Henry’s daughter Frances was born on April 7, 1847, Dr. Nathan Cooley Keep administered ether to Henry’s wife, Fanny Appleton Longfellow; this was the first recorded use of obstetric anesthetic in the United States. She later wrote about her experience, “I am very sorry you all thought me so rash and naughty in trying the ether. Henry’s faith gave me courage…I feel proud to be the pioneer to less suffering for poor, weak womankind. This is certainly the greatest blessing of this age and I am glad to have lived at the time of its coming and in the country which gives it to the world…”

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1. Henry began growing a beard following the death of his second wife Fanny in 1861. Fanny died in a tragic fire and Henry was burned so badly trying to save her that he was left unable to shave his face for some time. He wore the beard the rest of his life.

1849: Henry W. Longfellow (1807-1882) and Frances Appleton Longfellow (1819-1861) with their two eldest children, Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) and Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921).
1849: Henry W. Longfellow (1807-1882) and Frances Appleton Longfellow (1819-1861) with their two eldest children, Charles Appleton Longfellow (1844-1893) and Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow (1845-1921).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, 1878
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Portland, 1878

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


To learn more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visit the Maine Memory Network and HWLongfellow.org. Visitors can tour his boyhood home, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, and garden in Portland, Maine at the Maine Historical Society.

Become a Portland History Docent!

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The Portland’s History Docents Program (PHD) is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year! Please join us for this special year, and receive knowledge, experience, and friendships that last a lifetime.

The PHD program is a collaborative effort by:

Each spring, these organizations join forces to provide a nine-week training program for new prospective volunteer guides at each organization’s respective museum site. Several weeks of lively and informative talks and presentations take place at MHS, combined with site visits to each partnering organization.

Upon graduation, PHD participants become eligible to volunteer at the site(s) of their choice, and training at those sites is scheduled on an individual basis. Graduates are asked to commit to a year of volunteer time. At MHS, docents provide tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, conduct the Old Port Walking Tour, assist with school groups, and work in other aspects of MHS operations.

When: Every Thursday mornings from 9:00am  – 12:00pm; March 5 – April 30, 2015.

Cost: $30, or $20 with a valid student I.D.
Download the application now.

For more information on the PHD program contact MHS’s Kathleen Neumann, Manager of School and Interpretive Programs at 207-774-1822 ext. 214, or email  kneumann@mainehistory.org. For information on the application process specifically, email volunteer@portlandlandmarks.org.

Christmas Trees from Maine

by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger

Christmas trees - Coll. S-1553

By the mid-19th century Christmas trees were available for American households to purchase to decorate their homes during the holiday season. In New York City, one could purchase trees grown in Maine.

Collections at our library regarding Thomas W. Jackson Jr. and his son Herbert A. Jackson, nurserymen in Stroudwater (now Portland), confirm the availability of Maine trees grown to sell in New York. An advertisement states: “20,000 Christmas trees from the State of Maine, 4 to 25 feet high will be sold very low for cash. Twenty years experience collecting Christmas trees for the New York market.”

An 1860 invoice shows cash sales for Christmas trees. The business started off slow on December 13th with sales of only $2.35, but peaked by December 21st with sales of $70.18. A total of $341.04 worth of Christmas trees was sold by December 24th. (One wonders how much each tree cost).

Coll. 2776 Jackson collection Christmas trees invoice 1870

An 1870 invoice reveals that cash was “received for Christmas trees deducting expenses after leaving home from Dec. 12th to 29th 1870” ($879.86). A bill was paid for $146.50 for “travelling expenses on acct of trees from Oct. 4th to Nov. 5th, 1870.”

Coll. 2776 Jackson collection Christmas tree invoice 1860

Some things never change. Christmas trees from Maine are still desirable and trucked to New York and elsewhere, and pine boughs and wreaths are shipped all over the world. After all, we are the “Pine Tree State!”

For more information on these collections see Coll. 2776 and Coll. S-1553.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Maine Historical Society! We look forward to making history with you in 2015.

The Diaries of Doris Blackman Merriam

By Emily Gendrolis, Library Intern

Over the centuries, the human impulse to leave behind a record of our lives has taken many forms. Cave painting is perhaps the first, chronicling successful hunts or bountiful harvests. From clay tablets to illuminated manuscripts to bound diaries to blogs, we have found a way to preserve a bit of ourselves in the records we leave behind.

The diaries of Doris Blackman Merriam in the recently processed collection of the same name in the Brown Library are a shining example of this inherent feature of the human experience. Writing nearly every day from 1975 to 2001, Doris created not only a record of her life, but a record of the world around her – providing a fruitful study for social historians. Entries range from discussions of daily activities like baking treats for a school fundraiser to her opinions of global conflicts to the latest fashion trends. Her diaries not only open a portal into the life of a devoted mother of seven, her opinions and views reflect major cultural and social movements spanning four decades.

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Doris Blackman Merriam (standing) with her husband Paul (left) and children, ca. 1943.

A Rockland native, Doris married and raised her family in her hometown. She first began keeping a daily journal at the urging of her son Kendall, who, as Rockland’s Poet Laureate, recognized the value of keeping such a record for posterity. Over the years, Doris became more comfortable keeping a diary, and a strong narrative voice emerges as she demonstrates a flare for describing international catastrophes with the same detail as the latest trend in hair perm techniques. Her unique perspective of the world around her reflects an acute awareness of events occurring thousands of miles away, prompting mindfulness in her readers of the way in which people and events far removed from us still have the power to arouse sentiment and personal reflection in relation to our own lives.

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Doris Blackman Merriam (second to right) with her family, ca. 1995.

Doris’s diaries offer endless possibilities for anyone interested in social history, with potential research topics including parent-child relationships, fashion, sports, shifting gender roles, political and economic conditions – all set within the context of four decades that saw radical changes in societal norms and major dramas set on an international stage, including armed conflicts and assassination attempts.

Coll. 2767 Doris with son Kendall
Doris Blackman Merriam holding her son Kendall, ca. 1942. She had seven children, born between 1935 and 1952.

As Doris wrote in her opening entry to her 1976 diary, “I hope that whoever reads these in future will enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” Now that the diaries and supporting materials are available for researchers in the Brown Library, we hope that you will stop by and take advantage of this truly exceptional collection.

For more information, see Coll. 2767 in the Brown Library Minerva catalog.