Monday, July 25, 2016

Mount Greylock State Reservation and State Parks in Massachusetts

Image of Mt. Greylock and an inset of Francis W. Rockwell, one of the
first Commissioners of the Mount Greylock State Reservation. From
The Glory of Greylock, by Francis W. Rockwell, 1921.

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. National Park Service and the month of July is National Parks and Recreation month. It seems only right, therefore, to highlight the state and national parks here in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts State Forests and Parks Service was founded in 1898 as an effort by the Greylock Park Association to protect Mount Greylock, the state’s tallest peak. The association had been established as an effort to save the mountain from the logging and charcoal-making industries that deforested and cut roads into the slopes, but the cost of protecting and maintaining the Association’s land holdings on the mountain soon outweighed the little revenue raised by tolls and admission fees. Several environmental organizations such as the Massachusetts Forest Association, the Trustees of Reservations, and the Appalachian Mountain Club assisted the Greylock Park Association by lobbying the Massachusetts Legislature to purchase Mount Greylock and dedicate it as a State Reservation. This law, Chapter 543 of the Acts and Resolves of 1898, also provided funds for operating expenses and for purchasing more land.

1917 Trail Map for Greylock State Reservation.
From Guide to the Greylock State Reservation (1917)

Further efforts at land conservation in Massachusetts were primarily concerned with fighting reforestation, ensuring water conservation, and restoring wildlife rather than recreational activities such as hiking or camping. Public use of the land increased through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal work relief program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which built many of the roads and recreational facilities in the state forests and parks of Massachusetts.

Today, the Division of MassParks, part of the Department for Conservation and Recreation (DCR), maintains almost 300,000 acres of land, including forests, beaches, mountains, trails, and parks throughout Massachusetts. Promoting the parks and recreational facilities is one of DCR’s primary goals, and their website provides a wealth of information and tools for park enthusiasts. Trail maps are easily attainable for many of the parks as downloadable PDFs and MassParks has created a recreational activity search engine to connect you with events and activities going on throughout the state. You can even download the MassParks Adventure Guide app, available via the Apple App Store or Google Play, to add more to your state park and recreational experience. Celebrate National Parks and Recreation month this July by checking out some state parks near you!  

Alexandra Bernson

Monday, July 18, 2016

Massachusetts Citizens’ Right to Free Petition

Massachusetts is the only state in the country that gives its citizens the right to file bills directly in its state legislature.  This right of free petition is first mentioned as the 12th liberty in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), which was intended for use as guidance for the General Court at the time:
Every man whether Inhabitant or fforreiner, free or not free shall have libertie to come to any publique Court, Councel, or Towne meeting, and either by speech or writeing to move any lawfull, seasonable, and materiall question, or to present any necessary motion, complaint, petition, Bill or information, whereof that meeting hath proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and respective manner.
This right can also be found in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which is also the oldest constitution in the world that is still currently in use.  Article XIX of Part the First, which is one of 30 articles that makes up the “Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” states:
The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.
Now that you, the Massachusetts citizen, know your right to petition—where do you begin?  It’s important to first take a look at some introductory resources that will help you understand general procedures as well tips on how to draft a potentially successful piece of legislation:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Dangers of “Moving Pictures”

Mellen as Representative
in 1888
In 1910 Representative James Henry Mellen of Worcester, who served for many years until his death that same year, submitted a petition (House No. 433) to the Massachusetts legislature to consider an investigation into the “great moral, mental and physical danger” of moving pictures.  His many concerns include:

  • Greed of the motion picture industry;
  • Coarse language and slang heard in theatres, especially in the presence of women and children who have “never frequented theatres before;” 
  • The “havoc” that “jerky flickering films” are causing on people’s eyes, young and old;
  • Objectionable pictures being shown, especially those from Paris “where the morals are low,” which could physically affect women “in a delicate condition” and influence gangs of “desperadoes” by desensitizing the population to crime;
  • The negative influence “pictures of vice” have on young girls, making them more susceptible to victimization;
  • Children idolizing film characters as “real heroes in life;”
  • The lack of fire protection in many small theatres.

Text of 1910 HB433

It doesn’t appear that anything came of the investigation, if there was one, as no report could be found within the legislative documents.  Many of Mellen’s arguments seem amusing now (especially his fixation on the Parisians) since motion pictures have become a regular part of everyday life and censorship is overall much more lax.  However, technological developments in more recent history, such as television, video games, the internet, mobile devices, have been met with similar concerns.

The library continues to upload its collection of legislative documents online, which are a valuable source of historical sentiments and developing attitudes surrounding various topics that were of both great and minor importance to Massachusetts citizens.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy Independence Day, America!

Happy 240th Birthday to the United States! Is history possibly repeating itself with the recent “Brexit” vote and the British desire for a greater control over its own affairs and independence that seems to mirror the events leading up to the American Revolution? Political intrigue is the constant that seemingly makes living either in 1776 or in 2016 most “interesting times” as the famous saying goes. 

There is no disputing that Boston is the epicenter as the “cradle of liberty” where the American independence movement all began with “the shot heard round the world” back in April of 1776. Over the ensuing years the popular traditions of celebrating American independence may have changed from formal political orations to informal backyard cookouts, but the spirit of any  celebration still remains true to John Adams’s original notion that American Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more” (Original letter found here).  Granted, Adams was writing about what some might call the “real” Independence Day, July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress of the original thirteen colonies voted to approve a resolution of independence resulting in a legal separation from Great Britain. It is the July 4, 1776 date printed on the more famous, widely circulated, and ratified Declaration of Independence (not that the document ever called itself by that name!) that has been adopted as our national birthday.

On July 3, 1781 Massachusetts became the first state legislature to recognize July 4, “the anniversary of the independence of the United States of America” as an official state celebration (Resolves of 1781, Chap. 123) and today some of the traditions still celebrated have their roots in how New Englanders celebrated all those years ago.  Of course, what Independence Day celebration now would be complete without a fireworks display? Lesser known is the New England tradition of creating enormous bonfires on the night of July 3 which were the centerpiece of town July 4th celebrations during the early half of the 20th century. The bonfires were generally built from wooden barrels and casks and set ablaze at midnight in order to usher in “a new year of liberty.” During the 1960’s as cardboard replaced wood and as fireworks became a cheaper, safer, and more modern alternative, they replaced the bonfire tradition except in some North Shore towns like Rockport where the July 4th bonfire tradition still continues on.. 

Another fascinating July 4th tradition is the “Horribles Parades” that take place all over Massachusetts, including in my hometown of Mendon. The parades trace their origin back to the country’s oldest military organization, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638. Members of the Company, colloquially known as “the ancients and honorables,” would march in a haphazard collection of different military uniforms and as a result of this outwardly comical appearance to spectators the idea to “mock” them in a parody parade featuring “antiques and horribles” was born and first held in Lowell on July 4, 1851. Other towns were also inspired to participate in this new holiday custom and the “horribles” parades boomed in popularity as competitions sprung up between towns as to which one could have the most outrageous parade. Today the remaining “horribles” parades are more for fun and amusement--featuring adults and children dressed in costumes that commonly lampoon local and national political figures and current events in true satirical New England Yankee fashion. Happy 4th of July!

The State Library’s collections contain numerous resources on the history of the War of Independence and Independence Day.  

Some classics:

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services

Monday, June 20, 2016

Massachusetts Amusement Parks: Present … and Past

Hot summer days remind me of my childhood years fondly spent at local amusement parks near where I grew up in Connecticut —Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury and Lake Compounce in Bristol.  I would also beg (usually, unsuccessfully!) to go to Riverside Park in Agawam, now known as Six Flags New England, which is certainly the most famous and popular amusement park still operating in New England today. Opened in 1870 as “Gallup’s Grove” and known as “Riverside Park” until being rebranded as “Six Flags” in 1999, it is the oldest amusement park in the entire Six Flags chain of parks. Of course no amusement park is complete without its signature wooden roller coaster--the Thunderbolt roller coaster at Six Flags New England dates from 1941 and was built with cars and plans purchased from the 1939 New York World’s Fair’s Cyclone roller coaster and is still the oldest original coaster operating in any of the Six Flags parks.
Memories remain too of beloved amusement parks of yesteryear—especially those dubbed “trolley parks” that were established at the end of the trolley lines to encourage ridership on the weekends, exactly as their name suggests. One of the longer lasting and more famous of these was Whalom Park in Lunenburg which opened in 1893. If you were living in Massachusetts (or New Hampshire) during the 1990’s you might remember the catchy “For a Whale of a Time” Whalom Park commercials airing on television. At the time of its closure in September of 2000, it was the 13th oldest continually operating amusement park in the United States (for the record, my hometown’s Lake Compounce is the oldest, dating to 1846!). Another famous “trolley park” was White City on Lake Quinsigamond in Shrewsbury which opened in 1905 and closed in September of 1960 to make way for a shopping plaza. In its heyday it was called the “Land of Fifty Thousand Electric Lights” which was rumored to be the source of its name, however it is more likely that its namesake was the famous White City of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

The Massachusetts seashore has always been a big draw for summer crowds in the past and remains so to this day. Like many other seaside towns in the United States, amusement parks were built alongside Revere Beach (the nation’s first public beach) and Nantasket Beach in Hull in the early 20th century. Wonderland Amusement Park in Revere was only open from 1906 to 1911 and probably its most lasting legacy is the Blue Line T station that still bears its name but what is also noteworthy is the rumor that Wonderland was possibly the inspiration for the most famous amusement park of all: Disneyland. As for Paragon Park at
 Nantasket Beach, opened in 1905 and closed in 1984, all that remains is the 88 year old Paragon Park Carousel which is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and today gives a small glimpse into what the “golden age” of summers spent along the Massachusetts coast was like.

You can read about the fascinating history of these “lost” amusement parks in these books found  in the State Library’s Collections: 

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services

Monday, June 13, 2016

State Library’s new exhibition on the fishing industries in Massachusetts is now in Flickr

The State Library is newest exhibition, “Exercised in Fishing”: A History of the Fishing, Whaling, and Shellfish Industries in Massachusetts is now available in FlickrThis exhibition, drawn from the collections at the State Library of Massachusetts, traces that history from before the European settlements to the present.

The exhibition runs from June 6 through August 31, 2016. It can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.