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.

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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On embracing Pokémon GO at Maine Historical Society

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Maine Historical Society is embracing the Pokémon GO excitement around our fair city of Portland, Maine, and see it as a way to engage new audiences. We’re especially lucky to have many pokéstops nearby and a gym in the historic Monument Square across the street.

MHS PG Map

During the August 5 First Friday Art Walk, we’re hosting a special Pokémon GO meetup with lures, activities, a charging station, free wifi, themed snacks, and a chance for players to interact with our gallery exhibitions and to explore the Longfellow Garden. We’re asking guests to think about Maine’s history, our collection, and exhibitions while playing in their virtual reality, Which team might Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have been on and why? or  If Pokemon were around during the Great Portland Fire of 1866, which ones could have helped? We’re looking for players to relate the concepts of the game, like using water pokémon to battle against a fire pokémon, to themes in our history.

PG at MHS FFAW

Pokémon have been spotted around our campus in our store, Longfellow garden, and galleries–they’re pretty adorable. Our marketing staff share in-game screen captures on Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #makinghistory #shopandplay #historyisfun and of course #mainehistory and #pokemongo (we’re @mainehistory).

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In order to best serve the needs of our community, we reached out to Pokémon GO Facebook groups and asked members: what would you like to see MHS do for you on our campus? One compelling response was that there are tons of Pokéstops at monuments, landmarks, and other historical points of interest but most people don’t get to learn any of the history as they’re playing, and that’s something we can provide. We can share that information in those groups and on our own social media pages Did you know the Pokéstop at the Time and Temperature building was built in 1924 as the Chapman Building, once the tallest in the city? It can be seen as part of the Portland’s skyline from as far as Peaks Island!, as illustrated handouts and person-to-person engagement at our events, and through targeting store marketing. The timing of a new book we’re carrying in our store about the history of Portland couldn’t have been better: we’re promoting Walking Through History: Portland, Maine on Foot as the perfect companion guide for Pokémon trainers in Portland to learn all about the city’s history with this brand new publication by Paul Ledman ($20, available in our store and online). Of course, we’re also pointing players in the direction of our Brown Library for more in-depth research!

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Pidgey’s favorite book is “Walking Through History”

While we know that this trend isn’t evergreen, we’re excited to lean into the unknown and try this out! We’re grateful to other cultural organizations for paving the way over the last two weeks and convincing us to join in the fun, and to Walter Chen at Inc.com for helping us realize the biggest message: By providing a space of excitement today, we know we’ll be seeing the faces of our new audiences in days, weeks, and years to come.

-Dani Fazio, MHS Creative Manager • You can reach Dani at dfazio@mainehistory.org

Books in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House | Part I: Anne Longfellow Pierce’s Library

Notes from the Archives by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger

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Anne Longfellow Pierce’s library in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

In the rear second floor bedroom of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House is a small bookshelf filled with books that belonged to Anne Longfellow Pierce, the sister of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Anne grew up in the family home on Congress Street in Portland, and lived there for 87 of her 90 years. Anne eventually became the sole owner of the house, bequeathing it to the Maine Historical Society when she died in 1901.

During the fall of 2014 I catalogued these books, and along the way gleaned a little information about Anne and her family and community. Anne was a devoted member of the First Parish Church (Unitarian) just down the street from her home, and many of these books were given to the church by Anne, only to be returned many years later to the Maine Historical Society. Many contain a bookplate from the “Minister’s Library” at First Parish.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland, ca. 1880. Anne Longfellow Pierce, the poet's sister, gave the building to the Maine Historical Society in 1901.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Portland, ca. 1880. Anne Longfellow Pierce, the poet’s sister, gave the building to the Maine Historical Society in 1901.

Beyond the association with the church are associations with Anne’s family. Many of the books were given to her by her younger brother Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892), a minister and hymn writer. Hymns and Meditations is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce with love & good wishes from her brother S., Jan. 1st, 1864.” Anne’s sister Mary Longfellow Greenleaf presented to her Seven Voices of Sympathy: From the Writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the work of their famous brother. Lucia Wadsworth, Anne’s aunt, gave her a Bible dated 1833, when Anne was in her early 20s. A five-volume series of The Works by Jeremy Taylor belonged to Anne’s husband George Washington Pierce, a classmate and close friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who studied law in Stephen (Henry and Anne’s father) Longfellow’s office. Sadly George Washington Pierce died a year after inscribing into these volumes: “Geo. W. Pierce, Oct. 1834.”He was 29, having been married to Anne only three years.

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Anne Longfellow Pierce’s library in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

There are presentation copies from friends, such as Life in the Sick-Room by Harriet Martineau, which is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce from her friend, P. C. Jones [?], June 6th, 1844.” The may possibly be Paulina Cony Jones (1809-1845), who must have had sympathy for Anne who was caring for her father Stephen, who died in 1849, and her mother Zilpah, who died in 1851.

Anne Longfellow Pierce, Portland, 1830

Anne Longfellow Pierce, Portland, 1830

One book contained newspaper clippings about geraniums and potatoes, and a manuscript envelope with list of countries on it, from which one could glean more insight into the thoughts of Anne Longfellow Pierce.

Apart from Anne’s imprints on these books, many were owned by Nathaniel F. Deering. A few were used in the pews of the First Parish Church, such as A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Christian Worship which is inscribed at the top of the title page: “John J. Brown [?], Pew 96.”

Given the connection to the First Parish Church, most of these books are religious in nature, but occasionally there are a few glimpses of life beyond the spiritual realm. The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither by Isabella L. Bird is a surprising find. Isabella Lucy Bird was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist; she was the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The golden Chersonese is about Bird’s travels to Malay and China. There are also a few books of poetry, a book about Lord Lyttleton, and a book about Edward the Sixth.

To learn more about these books you can search our Minerva catalog (Dewey Call Number Search) for W-L 600 through W-L 641.


COMING SOON: Books in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House | Part II: Stephen Longfellow’s Library

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.

Save the Date: Magical History Tour, May 1-2, 2015

52057_Press HotelOn Saturday, May 2, 2015 join us for a tour of some fascinating historic sites in Portland that you have never seen—and maybe didn’t even know existed! We’ve gained access to some very special places that will delight and amaze both adults and kids. The mystery sites will be revealed at a cocktail party we’re hosting on Friday, May 1—and the even the location of the party is part of the fun. Our event will be one of the first held in the new Press Hotel. Located in the former Portland Press Herald building, the new hotel embraces its history and celebrates the newspaper theme throughout. You’ll get a sneak peek just weeks before the hotel’s grand opening!

 

For more information, stay tuned on our Facebook page or join our e-mail list.

 

Image: Press Herald Building at 119 Exchange/ 175-179 Federal Street, Portland, 1924. Portland Tax Record, Item #52057.

The Making of Our YELP Video

In August, we teamed up with Yelp to promote MHS and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. A video was produced and we had a lot of fun making it with filmmaker Patrick Russell.

Take a behind the scenes look at the making of our video! (Note: from our Yelp page, click the link “Watch Video” beneath the images.)