Monday, October 16, 2017

The Leaf-Peepers Among Us

“Leaf-peeping” is a uniquely New England term, meaning the activities during which one travels to observe the beautiful changing colors of the foliage during the autumn season. Because of the beauty of our forests and woods, Massachusetts and its surrounding states are inundated with leaf-peeping tourists throughout autumn, particularly in October, and it is not uncommon to see tour companies advertising “leaf-peeper tours” or “leaf-peeper rides.” But where does this tradition come from?

Lithograph: Autumnal scenery, view in Amherst (1833),
Courtesy of Jones Library Special Collections

New Englanders have always been proud of the spectacular beauty of our local forests. “Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there,” Thoreau wrote for an essay in the Atlantic in 1862. He continues, “October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.”

The specific phrase “leaf-peeper” appears to have evolved from “leaf-peeker,” originating in Vermont around the 1900’s. In 1966, “leaf peeper” appeared in print for the first time in a column of Vermont newspaper The Bennington Banner entitled “Thoughts of a Leaf Peeper,” which described the beauty of Vermont’s foliage. The same edition of that paper also included an editorial article discussing traffic caused by those chasing the fall foliage and mentions a disgruntled local’s car boasting a sign: “Tourists Go Home!” (Peterson). Traffic issues that accompany leaf-peeping season have always plagued the areas where the foliage is best. The pamphlet below from 1978 recommends “shunpiking” during foliage season, that is, avoiding turnpikes and using side roads to get to one’s destination.

Pamphlet from the State Library's Collection:
"Massachusetts Foliage: the Irresistible Beauty of Nature" (1978)

New England isn’t the only place to which tourists traditionally travel to witness spectacular foliage. Traveling to view spectacular fall foliage has become a tradition throughout the United States and throughout the world. In fact, the same activity that we know as “leaf-peeping” is known as momijigari in Japan, meaning “autumn leaf hunting.” This cultural activity is also referred to as koyo, meaning “fall colors” or “colorful leaves,” or kanpukai, meaning “getting together to enjoy the autumn foliage” (

Fall Foliage in the Boston Public Garden (2015)
Photograph by Alexandra Bernson

While the origins of the New England phrase “leaf-peeping” may have been derogatory, the phrase “leaf-peeper” has lost much of its negative connotation today. The activity of leaf-peeping has become so popular that there are entire guidebooks and websites dedicated to it. For example, publishes information regarding peak foliage time and scenic drives or vistas that best show off an area’s foliage. Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation has a webpage dedicated to Fall Foliage Season in the Parks and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism’s website includes an interactive InstaFoliage page that shows off different leaf-peeping driving routes throughout the state. And if you didn’t know about these resources, almost every newspaper in New England publishes some sort of guide every year, such as the Boston Globe’s “Six of the Prettiest New England towns for leaf peeping” and’s  “Your ultimate guide to New England fall foliage.”

Where are your favorite leaf-peeping spots in Massachusetts?

Further reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference staff

Monday, October 9, 2017

Best Practices Exchange: 2017 Conference

This November the Best Practices Exchange conference is being held in Boston and co-hosted by the State Library of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Archives, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.  The theme for this year’s conference will focus on topics relating to “Balancing Preservation and Engagement.”

What is the Best Practices Exchange (BPE)?  The BPE is a community of librarians, archivists, records managers and other information professionals that are dedicated to managing and preserving digital government information.  Once a year there is a 3-day informal gathering (an ‘un’conference) held in a selected location in the U.S. that allows the community to gather and learn new information, exchange ideas and experiences, and see how other institutions are tackling issues with digital management and preservation in government and non-government settings.

Are you a part of this community and want more information about the BPE and the 2017 conference?

When:  November 6-8, 2017
Where:  Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts

Questions or comments?
Contact:  Veronica Martzahl, BPE Co-Chair
Phone: 617-727-2816 ext. 258

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Staff

Monday, October 2, 2017

October Author Talk: Steven A. Rosenberg

Middle Class Heroes: Voices from Boston's Suburbs
by Steven A. Rosenberg 
Thursday, October 19, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Our next author talk features the acclaimed journalist and editor Steven A. Rosenberg, author of Middle Class Heroes: Voices from Boston’s Suburbs. Join us at noon on Thursday, October 19, to hear Mr. Rosenberg speak about this recently published book, which is a collection of his most intriguing articles from his 2001-2016 tenure at the Boston Globe.

Middle Class Heroes presents the personal stories of everyday people living in Salem, Somerville, Lynn, and other Boston suburbs. These vignettes feature individuals from all walks of life, including a WWI veteran from Swampscott, a fisherman from Gloucester, and even Mr. Rosenberg’s father, Sam, who ran a deli in Chelsea and whose portrait graces the cover of  Middle Class Heroes.

Prior to his work at the Boston Globe, Mr. Rosenberg served as the editor of The Jewish Advocate and also worked as a documentary filmmaker whose works have been featured on such media outlets as PBS, CBS, and ESPN. After having spent fifteen years as a reporter, columnist, and photographer for the Boston Globe, Mr. Rosenberg is now the editor and publisher of the Jewish Journal.

Mr. Rosenberg will be offering copies of Middle Class Heroes for sale and signing at the conclusion of his talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pope, Columbia, and the History of the Bicycling Industry in Massachusetts

While using the book History of Massachusetts Industries: Their Inception, Growth and Success, by Orra Stone, I learned that Massachusetts had one of the largest factories for producing bicycles.  As a matter of fact, Massachusetts was the first place in the US that bicycles were manufactured.

Albert A. Pope, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Union Army, who had first seen a bicycle at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, had decided to promote the bicycle in this country for health and recreational purposes.  In 1877 Pope organized the Pope Manufacturing Company with headquarters at 87 Summer Street, Boston, which later became the Westfield Manufacturing Company located in Westfield, MA.  To Pope, the quality of his product was paramount.  After the Philadelphia Exposition Pope went to Europe to study how bicycles were made. After acquiring the American rights to the patents, Pope approached the Weed Sewing Machine Company about using the empty wings of its Hartford plant to produce 50 test bicycles.

 Because of Pope’s high standards, by 1930 the Westfield Manufacturing Company (producer of the Columbia bicycle) was the largest industry of its kind in the United States.  In a short period of time the price of the bicycle steadily increased.  In 1878, the Standard Columbia (one of their bicycle models) sold for $80 to $90; by 1893 the best Columbia sold for $150.

The US had better machinery than in Europe so we were able to produce better bicycles. Some bicycles were shipped abroad, more and more every year.  Eventually the Europeans made improvements to their machinery and they could manufacture their own bicycles.

Company’s brief timeline:
  • 1878: Colonel Pope issued a trade catalog 
  • 1882: the Expert Columbia was launched-the first bicycle to be ridden around the world
  • 1883-1885: the Columbia racer, the light roadster, and the two track and three track tricycles first appeared.
  • 1886: the Columbia Safety Bicycle appeared.  A Safety bicycle is lower to the ground than the Penny Farthing also known as a high wheeler (bicycle with a big front wheel and small back wheel).  
  • 1887-1890: Pope introduced several models including the Columbia Tandem, the racing and light roadster tricycles, the rear driving safety bicycle, the Columbia light roadster safety, the tandem safety, and the women’s safety, and cushion tires first made their appearance on Columbia products.
  • 1891: the world’s record of a mile in 2 minutes, 15 seconds was made on a pneumatic racing safety Columbia bicycle.
  • 1897: Columbia built a bevel gear chainless bicycle which uses a beveled drive shaft where a chain would be.  
  • 1899: the American Bicycle Company was incorporated by Pope and took over the Pope Manufacturing Company and 47 other manufacturers of bicycles and bicycle parts.
  • 1901-1905: many wonderful advances were made by Columbia management including: the cushion frame, the Columbia hub coaster brake, the Pope coaster brake, the Pope cushion fork. These all deal with cushioning the bicycle by using shock absorbers. According to the Columbia Manufacturing Company, by 1897, the Pope Manufacturing Co. held over 50 patents. 
  • 1906: the company moved from Hartford, CT to Westfield, MA.
  • 1917: Columbia was chosen as the standard for the U.S. Army by U.S. transportation experts. Thousands of these bicycles were sent to France during the First World War.  The Westfield plant also helped the war effort by manufacturing high-explosive shells for the government. In 1917 and 1918 every American-made gas shell hurled by our army in France, was manufactured in the Westfield plant.”  

There is still a manufacturing company of Columbia bicycles in Westfield, MA but they are also now known for their school furniture.  They still have the original factory as its core, located at One Cycle Street in Westfield, MA.

Naomi Allen
Reference Staff

Monday, September 18, 2017

Special Event: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Cover of The Liberty Bell, vol. 14
Friday, Sept. 29th, 2017—12:30-1:15pm
State Library of Massachusetts, 
Special Collections—Room 55
Massachusetts State House

The Friends of the State Library of Massachusetts will present a special event in the Library's Special Collections Department on September 29th from 12:30-1:15pm: “Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts.” Visitors will be able to view and learn about materials that are normally not on public view.  Items include some of the earliest published laws of Massachusetts, a realistic facsimile of Mayflower passenger William Bradford’s manuscript journal Of Plimoth Plantation, broadsides recruiting soldiers for the Civil War, photographs of African-American soldiers from the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Regiments, a handwritten journal by a Civil War soldier from Massachusetts, early maps of Boston, and beautifully illustrated books on natural history.  Space is limited so register today!

To register or learn more about the event, please visit: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Have a question?  Contact the library’s Special Collections staff directly via e-mail or by phone:
Phone: 617-727-2595

State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, September 11, 2017

New Exhibition, featuring Symbols of Massachusetts

Opening on Monday, September 11, the State Library of Massachusetts’s newest exhibition features the official symbols of the Commonwealth. The symbols, all officially approved by the state legislature, range from the whimsical (Ms. G., the State Groundhog) to the philosophical (“Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem,” the State Motto). The exhibition uses materials from the State Library’s collections, including artifacts that illustrate specific symbols. Don’t miss the Boston-style baked beans!

The exhibition, located outside the main library in Room 341 of the State House, will run through December 31, 2017. It is also available through the State Library’s Flickr site. Please come visit!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Trial of Jane Toppan

Jane Toppan (born Honora Kelley) was a Victorian-era serial killer who confessed to murdering 31+
people in Boston and on Cape Cod with lethal doses of poisonous admixtures over a span of about 20 years—starting in the 1880s up until her capture in October of 1901.  Her victims included patients at hospitals where she worked as a nurse, her friends, her landlords, and even her own foster sister.  In June of 1902, Toppan was brought before the Barnstable Superior Court on the charge of murdering Mary D. Gibbs and was found not guilty by reason of insanity.  She spent her remaining years in the Taunton State Hospital and died in 1938.

The State Library has recently digitized the transcript of the 1902 trial and it is now freely available to download through our DSpace digital repository: 

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Caption:  Jane Toppan (1857-1938)