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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“Where Hostilities Are Now In Progress”: Documents from the MHS WW1 Collection

By Pamela Ruth Outwin, MLIS, Brown Library Intern

 

By the first week of August of 1914, nearly all of continental Europe was embroiled in war. Russia and France had entered the conflict at the same time, with Russia crossing the border into Germany on August 1. Germany crossed into Luxembourg the next day in preparation for invading France, while Belgium desperately attempted to maintain its neutrality. Their resolution did not last long; within two days, Germany had declared war on Belgium as well, in order to secure their route into France. By August 7 the British military had been mobilized, and the first of the British Expeditionary Forces had landed on French soil.

European Map “Where Hostilities Are Now In Progress” ca. 1914

European Map “Where Hostilities Are Now In Progress” ca. 1914

Throughout June and July, King George V of England was in constant contact with his fellow sovereigns and leaders across Europe, searching for a way to keep his country out of the conflict. The last of the major European countries to join the fight, Britain had tried to act as a mediator between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their closest neighbors in Continental Europe. However, once the threat of violence and the reality of formal war crept towards the borders of Britain, the country was swift to join the action. Word of mouth was not sufficient for instructing the population as to why they had joined a greater conflict, especially with a large amount of pro-German propaganda being printed and distributed on a regular basis. As such, both the British Government and private individuals took advantage of the vast printing and publishing resources available to them to produce material that was used not only by British citizens throughout the course of the war, but sent to the United States in an effort to sway public opinion.

“Great Britain’s Reasons For Going To War.” Sir Gilbert, box 1.

“Great Britain’s Reasons For Going To War.” Sir Gilbert, box 1.

Britain’s entry into the war was not confined to the citizens of the British Isles; the entire Empire came with them. Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and all the other protectorates were encouraged to send men, munitions, and any materials they could spare as soon as possible. Australia and Canada, in particular, would have a great deal of influence on the progress of the war, particularly in Turkey and France. Astoundingly, many of the nations of Europe were enthusiastic about entering into combat, certain of their own country’s victory. Most though the war would be over in a matter of months, likely by Christmas or the New Year. That it would continue much longer, and claim many more lives than originally thought, would come as a terrible shock to all involved.

“Young Lions” Postcard, ca. 1914

“Young Lions” Postcard, ca. 1914

The Maine Historical Society’s Brown Research Library is currently in the process of preparing this collection of First World War documents for research, in time for the commemoration of the United States’ entry into the conflict. The collection materials cover the entire span of World War I, from works published at the very beginning that call it “The War of 1914” to documents produced at the end of the conflict that discuss the rebuilding of a devastated Europe.

 

This is the second article in a series about this collection. The first article can be found here: Assassinations and Entanglements: Documents from the MHS First World War Collection.

 

NOTE: This collection is not yet available for research. For further information contact Jamie Kingman Rice, Director of Library Services at jrice@mainehistory.org.

Assassinations and Entanglements: Documents from the MHS First World War Collection

By Pamela Ruth Outwin, MLIS, Brown Library Intern

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia on June 28, 1914, was the trigger for one of the most deadly wars in human history, and a lynchpin for the massive worldwide societal and cultural changes that occurred in the 20th century. While, in hindsight, the beginning of the war seems like a matter that could have been easily settled between Austria-Hungary and Serbia without any outside involvement, such compartmentalization of conflict was not an option. Much of this was due to interconnected treaties and alliances that had been instituted in Europe over the hundred years leading up to World War 1. They had, for a time, served to keep the continent peaceful and avoid the smaller, petty conflicts that characterized much of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Image The death of the Archduke and his wife, however, changed everything. Austria-Hungary issued a formal letter of complaint to the government of Serbia, to which Serbia failed to respond in what Austria-Hungary considered a timely or sufficient manner. While, initially, there was a great deal of sympathy for the Austro-Hungarian position, that sentiment swiftly waned amongst the European powers as war became imminent. When hostilities commenced between the two countries, Germany, as Austria-Hungary’s ally, entered the war at the same time. France came in with Russia, as part of a different treaty, and the rest of Europe’s interlocking alliances were triggered in short order.

Image The given reasons for going to war were many and varied. Germany’s view of their role in the conflict was avenging sullied honor, as well as Europe’s general lack of respect for their nation and culture. Britain felt that they were defending the rest of the civilized world against German imperial ambitions. Many other European nations entered not out of any sense of outrage or indeed any strong opinion on the assassination, but simply because their alliances would not allow them to remain out of the fight. The United States’ declared neutrality seemed to be based entirely on the fact that they felt they had no business interfering on another continent. This sentiment lasted America until their entry into the conflict in April of 1917, by which time Europe had been devastated in a manner that no one could have foreseen, and that American forces could hardly believe.

Image The Maine Historical Society’s collection of First World War documents, many donated by Sir Gilbert Parker and Prof. W. Macneile Dixon, shed light on the many and varied viewpoints and narratives that shook the world between 1914 and 1918. The Maine Historical Society’s Brown Research Library is currently undertaking an extensive inventory and preservation project to prepare this collection for research, in time for the 2017 commemoration of the United States’ entry into the conflict. The collection materials cover the entire span of World War I, from works published at the very beginning that call it “The War of 1914” to documents produced at the end of the conflict that discuss the rebuilding of a devastated Europe. Moreover, the documents provide a varied viewpoint, from authors who praised America’s neutrality to those who condemned their lack of involvement; from the most anti-Prussian British propaganda, to German publications that rationalized their actions in combat and in conquered territory. Taken together, the MHS First World War Collection provides a balanced, nuanced, and revelatory view of the causes, events, and consequences of the global conflict.

 

NOTE: This collection is not yet available for research. For further information contact Jamie Kingman Rice, Director of Library Services at jrice@mainehistory.org.

Remembering the Doughboys

U. S. Army unit on Walker Memorial Library steps, Westbrook, 1917 (MMN #82210)

U. S. Army unit on Walker Memorial Library steps, Westbrook, 1917 (MMN #82210)

New Maine Memory Network contributing partner Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook has been adding some great images to the database. Like this one–a unit of World War I U.S. Army soldiers assembled on the front steps of the Library in 1917. Westbrook lost 19 of the 398 men who served. Zoom in on their faces to see just how young some of these young men really were.

The 100th anniversary of the Great War begins next year. We are marking the occasion early with Thursday’s noontime book talk by Richard Rubin, author of The Last of the Doughboys. Both the book and Rubin himself have been getting great reviews around the state. Don’t miss it!

Calling all Fashionistas to First Friday

Join us during Portland’s remaining 2011 First Friday Art Walks (9/2, 10/7, 11/4, 12/2) to see two fabulous fashion-themed shows, “Having in Paris a Great Success”: French Fashion, 1928-1936, on display in the Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. Lecture Hall, and Dressing Up, Standing Out, Fitting In: Adornment & Identity in Maine, on display in the museum. Mingle with friends, enjoy refreshments and music, and discover Maine history. And the best part: it’s all FREE!

By now, if you keep up with this blog or other MHS publicity, you know all about the Dressing Up exhibit. But you may be wondering about the Lecture Hall’s latest display. The collection comes from Maine artist Mildred Burrage, who amassed “line sheets” from Paris fashion houses. Here’s the scoop:

Imagine women in Depression-era Maine receiving illustrations of the season’s newest offerings from a Paris house of fashion. Colorful drawings on tissue, many of evening attire, with fabric samples attached and comments such as “Beautiful evening gown, having in Paris a great success!!” must have been quite enticing.

Maison Christiane of Paris and Nice, Lucile of Paris, and other fashion houses created the drawings that were sent to customers and likely shared among several women. At least one Maine-affiliated woman–probably Elizabeth Dodge Huntington who summered at Prouts Neck–ordered clothing depicted in the illustrations.

During World War I, American fashion came into its own, spurred by wartime shortages and by the more casual lifestyle of the United States. Nonetheless, women’s dresses from Paris designers continued to be prestigious. Christiane and Lucile produced attire aimed at the well-to-do, but not the most elite customers.

A 1928 newspaper article noted that, “To the Maison Christiane belongs the honor of giving the first garden party of the Paris season of 1928,” a party held “within a stone’s throw of the avenue de l’Opéra.” It went on to say that the “collection is also notable for the excellent quality of the workmanship and for the exquisite handwork, especially the embroidery which is used on many of the models.”