Monday, August 13, 2018

September Author Talk: Karilyn Crockett

People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, and a New Movement for City Making, by Karilyn Crockett 
Tuesday, September 18, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library of Massachusetts has a great lineup of authors for our new season of Author Talks, starting with our September speaker, Dr. Karilyn Crockett, author of People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, and a New Movement for City Making. We invite you to join us for Dr. Crockett’s talk and book signing at noon on Tuesday, September 18th, in Room 341 of the Massachusetts State House.

People before Highways explores a 1960s grassroots movement to halt the planned extension of the interstate highway system through the city of Boston. When it became clear that the planned highway would disproportionately impact poor communities of color, activists began to organize in order to push back. Now, thanks to this victorious multiracial coalition of anti-highway protestors, Bostonians are able to enjoy a highway-less urban corridor and a linear central city park—testaments to the power of citizen-led city making. 

Author Karilyn Crockett is the former Director of Economic Policy and Research, and Director of Small Business Development, for the City of Boston and Lecturer of Public Policy and Urban Planning at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning. Prior to her graduate studies at Yale University and the London School of Economics, Dr. Crockett co-founded Multicultural Youth Tour Of What's Now (MYTOWN), an award winning, educational non-profit organization in Boston. During its nearly 15 years of operation, MYTOWN created jobs for more than 300 low and moderate-income teenagers and was touted by the National Endowment for the Humanities as being “one of ten best Youth Humanities Programs in America.”

The State Library’s Author Talks are free and open to everyone. We invite you to register in advance, and we look forward to seeing you on September 18th at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, August 6, 2018

Before it gets cold!: Recreational Resources for Massachusetts

With the beginning of August comes the slow end of summer, but still there is plenty of time to pack every last bit of summer fun in! While winter brings with it its own seasonal recreational activities, the opportunities to tour and trek throughout New England are abundant during the warmer months, with the most popular remaining the same for decades, perhaps even centuries.

Throughout history, locals and tourists alike have pursued the historic, cultural, and environmental recreation that the Commonwealth offers in abundance. Our library’s collection offers a few documents about recreation throughout Massachusetts from the 1930s that show that we have more in common with our ancestors that we may have thought.

One book entitled Recreation in and about Boston; a handbook of opportunities, published 1930, includes subject-specific essays on all that the commonwealth’s capital city offers. The chapter titles offer a glimpse of the book’s suggestions: “Cruising Afoot,” “Architecture Worth Seeing,” “Outdoor Sports,” and “An Approach to Art,” all of which directly correlate to today’s walking tours, architecture tours, sports stadiums, and art museums that are still popular. Even the Freedom Trail, which wouldn’t be organized for another 20 years after the book was published, is alluded to in two essays on “Historical Walks.” One reason we at the State Library particularly like this book is that we are featured in the essay “The Libraries of Greater Boston”:

Recreation in and about Boston; a handbook
of opportunities (1930)

“It contains a great collection of law reports, session laws, Federal, State, and town documents...” Some things never change!

Another particularly interesting look back into the region’s recreational history is a marketing pamphlet entitled “Come Again to New England.” The pamphlet’s introductory paragraph waxes on about the features, amenities, and recreational opportunities that abound in New England, but is particularly charming about the region’s people: “The ruggedness of her hills is reflected in the ruggedness of her people – statistics show that New Englanders live longer than the average – and that is one reason why New England is vacationland to so many thousands of visitors. Like them, if you come once, you’ll come again.” Whether this statistic is still true (or was ever true) we do not know, but the pamphlet goes on to list recreational literature about other sites throughout the region. In Massachusetts, it highlights Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, as well as historic Plymouth, the beautiful Mohawk Trail in Western Massachusetts, and more historic and outdoorsy spots to visit.

Come Again to New England (1930)

What are your favorite things to do in Massachusetts? It’s possible that people here have been enjoying exactly what you like to do for generations. Our catalog contains a wealth of information like the histories of your favorite cultural institution, the organization of the public recreational facilities by the state’s many recreational or environmental departments since 1898, and even guidebooks that led visitors throughout our state from as early as 1829. Our old and new resources can help whether you are planning your own getaway or wondering what your great-great-grandparents might have done for fun in Boston in the 1840’s.


Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, July 30, 2018

The “Zimmer” Newspaper Index

Although the State Library’s “Zimmer” newspaper index has been mentioned in some of our previous blogs, it’s such a great resource that I felt it deserving of its own post.  Developed and maintained by library staff, it was a card index to the “current events” of the time that were featured in late 19th and 20th century Massachusetts newspaper articles.  The bulk of the index covers the years 1878-1937, with some selected entries for earlier and later dates.  Entries include obituaries, political events, speeches, visits of foreign dignitaries, disasters (fires, floods, etc.) and other general newsworthy events.  A later index, which focuses primarily on political and governmental articles featured in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, covers the years 1960-1983.

The card index is nicknamed after Lowell native George Dana Zimmer, who was first appointed as an assistant in the library’s newspaper department by State Librarian Edward H. Redstone in 1924, and later became a senior library assistant.  Its history, however, can be traced back to the year 1891—over 30 years prior to Mr. Zimmer’s appointment.  State Librarian John W. Dickinson, in the library’s 1891 annual report, expressed a dire need for a newspaper index:

The modern newspaper covers so wide a field, in addition to the news of the world embodying carefully prepared special articles upon almost every subject of modern thought or material activity; it has become such an encyclopaedic treasure-house of information upon all subjects which are of interest to the historian or genealogist, the publicist or the student of political, economic or social questions, the merchant or the mechanic, the scientist or the man of letters, that the advisability of the employment of some competent person to make a comprehensive card index to some leading current newspaper, which shall also embody special features and the most important articles in other papers so far as may be practicable, is hereby commended to the careful consideration of the Legislature.  Such an index would save the patrons of the library a vast amount of time which is now spent in research, -- often to no purpose, -- and it would render accessible to public use a vast store-house of valuable material which is now practically unavailable after the day of its publication.

The next year, in 1892, the legislature, via Chapter 140 of the Acts, authorized the library trustees and the librarian “to cause to be prepared, at their discretion, an index to current events, and such other matters as they may deem important, contained in the newspapers of the day.”  James F. Munroe, who was in charge of the newspaper department at the time, created and maintained the “Current Events Index” (as it was previously known) until Zimmer succeeded Munroe in 1924.  Munroe’s “patient care and good judgment” to the project is noted in the library’s 1911 annual report.

The State Library has scanned the main part of the index (1878-1937) and hopes to make the collection available online in the future.  If you have any questions or would like for us to look up a person or event in the index for you, please send us an email ( or call our reference desk at 617-727-2590.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, July 23, 2018

For Every Seal a Story: Town and City Town Seals in the Commonwealth

The Massachusetts state seal, which adorns the commonwealth’s flag, is easily identifiable by most Massachusetts residents. In 1629 King Charles allowed the Massachusetts Bay Colony to create and use a seal as part of their charter, and though the symbol changed several times the local government always had an official seal during the colonial period. In 1780, the new state legislature settled on a new design to represent the Commonwealth, submitted by Nathan Cushing: an Algonquin Native American holding a bow and arrow pointed downward, signifying peace, against a blue shield; a white star in the upper left corner of the shield signifying their status as one of the 13 original colonies; and an arm holding a sword above the shield, illustrating the motto inscribed on the blue ribbon: “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem” (“By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty”).

The seal, and consequently the flag, has persisted despite some controversy regarding the design, but it is certainly not the most interesting of the many seals that exist in the commonwealth. In 1899, the General Court passed Chapter 256, dictating that “the city government of every city not already having a seal shall by ordinance establish a seal of the city and designate the custodian thereof” and further that “every town not already having a seal shall… establish a seal of the town, which seal shall be in the custody of the town clerk.” While some cities and towns already had seals in place, this order required the rest of the towns to create official symbols that uniquely represented their identity.

Chapter 256 of the Acts and Resolves of 1899

As the cities and towns in the commonwealth acquiesced to the new law, many of the towns looked to their past. Many of the local seals reference the Native American tribes that lived in the area before the arrival of European settlers, though not all depictions are accurate to the various tribes’ way of life. For example, the Natick town seal originally showed a scene of Puritan missionary John Eliot preaching to several Wampanoag men (a common image seen in many town seals in the commonwealth) with a teepee in the background, despite the fact that the Wampanoag traditionally built and lived in wigwams. The seal has since been changed to correct this inaccuracy.

Other towns portrayed their founding namesakes or legends on their seal, such as Taunton. Paul Revere is featured on Revere’s seal, Alexander Hamilton on Hamilton’s seal, and E.N. Holbrook on Holbrook’s seal. The first town founded by a woman in the United States, the seal shows Elizabeth Poole purchasing the land from the Nemasket Native Americans in 1637, though in reality she was not involved in the direct purchase.

Seal of the city of Taunton
Other towns and cities created seals that looked to the industries that helped put them on the map. Merrimac’s seal celebrates the carriage-building industry that began there when it was still named West Amesbury, while Medford’s seal is one of many that gives prominence to the ship-building industry. The town of North Adams has a particularly original seal featuring the Hoosac Tunnel, a great feat of engineering that resulting in the longest tunnel in North America at the time it was opened in 1875.

Town Seal of North Adams
Every seal has a story, and thankfully there are many resources that include these stories. The State Library of Massachusetts has several resources regarding local, county, and state heraldry such as Civil heraldry; a roll of arms of cities and towns in the United States including those of some counties, councils and courts. A more comprehensive collection is the multi-volume Town and city seals of Massachusetts published in the 1950’s, which includes not only the seal, but some history and anecdotes regarding each town and its seal. Our Special Collections department even has a scrapbook from the Department of Agriculture featuring embossed and printed seals for towns and cities in Massachusetts. You can also reach out to your town clerk or otherwise designated custodian of your town or city’s seal for more information.

Further reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

We Hold These Truths

We celebrate America’s independence on July 4, but Bostonians in 1776 did not hear the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence until it was read from the balcony of the Old State House on July 18. For those who were not part of that large crowd, the Declaration was also published in Boston on the same date. Three Boston newspaper publishers--John Gill, Edward E. Powars, and Nathaniel Willis--came together to print the Declaration as a broadside and in newspapers. Similar to modern-day posters, the broadside was a large piece of paper with printing just on one side that was posted and shared throughout the city. To spread the news of the Declaration even farther, its text was printed in Gill’s Continental Journal and Powars and Willis’ The New-England Chronicle. These are the only two newspapers in Boston that published the Declaration of Independence, though it appeared throughout Massachusetts in newspapers in Newburyport, Watertown, Worcester, and Salem. The State Library has a copy of the printing from The New-England Chronicle as part of its Special Collections holdings.

Full image and detail of The New-England Chronicle,
vol. VIII number 413, published July 18, 1776.

The first official printing of the Declaration of Independence was a broadside made by John Dunlap in Philadelphia on the night of July 4, 1776. Copies of that broadside were then distributed to the Committees of Safety in the other colonies, and the text from Dunlap’s printing was used by printers throughout the colonies to set their own versions in type. The copies that were printed by Gill, Powars, and Willis are significant because they mark the first time that the Declaration of Independence appeared in type in a Boston newspaper. If you look closely, you’ll see that in many instances it looks like the letter “f” appears in the text where an “s” should be. Powars and Willis didn’t pepper their version with typos; what looks like an “f” is actually known as a “long s.” This form of the lowercase s is used when it appears in the beginning or middle of a word, and as the first s in a word that includes a double s. The “long s” was used in the majority of books published in English during the 17th and 18th centuries, but most printers stopped using it by the early 1800s. Since the newspaper and broadside versions were set in type by many different people throughout the colonies, each version differs slightly in terms of punctuation, capitalization, and even some human error. It was not as easy to make an exact copy in the 1700s as it is today!

As the Preservation Librarian, I couldn’t end this post without a note on the newspaper’s condition. I spend a fair amount of time working with yellowed paper from the 1900s that is extremely brittle, and I’m always struck by how much better preserved paper is from the 1700s. The reason is a difference in paper quality. Paper in the 1700s was sometimes referred to as “rag paper” and it contained a higher content of cotton, which resulted in a strong and durable paper fiber. By the 1900s, paper was more commonly made with wood pulp, which is more acidic and would degrade faster. This is part of the reason why this newspaper from 1776 is in good condition, but the newspaper you might have tried to save when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 is likely starting to deteriorate!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, July 16, 2018

Massachusetts City and Town reports: Paper and Electronic

The State Library holds a large collection of annual reports of Massachusetts towns and cities dating back to the nineteenth century, largely because of Massachusetts General Law chapter 40, section 50, which mandates that towns have to send us their annual town reports.  These reports provide much useful information about the Commonwealth’s many towns.

The cities and towns put a variety of information into the reports, and they are not uniform with their coverage.  Some cities or towns include vital statistics, including birth, marriage and death statistics.  Other town reports include the town budget, departmental reports of various offices in the town such as the town clerk, and information from the most recent town meeting.

For instance, the town report for Hadley 2017, which we have so far only in paper, has their town seal on the title page, a table of contents and some statistics about the town including the year settled (1659), year incorporated (1661), current population (5198) and registered voters (4035).  The town has some vital statistics which include the number of births, deaths, and marriages in the last five years.  They have various town agency reports.  This includes a report from the Public Health Nurse with a chart of reported diseases with Influenza and Lyme topping the list; and a report from Animal Control with the number of barking dog complaints, and other incidents.

In the last few years we have also collected some of the annual reports electronically.  We make these reports available in our Digital Repository called DSpace.  (See Hadley’s 2016 annual report here.) One can access the electronic reports from any computer.  We have a list of cities and town annual reports that we have currently in paper and electronically.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, June 25, 2018

Davy Crockett in Massachusetts

Massachusetts may be just as proud of its folklore as it is about its history. Countless books have been written about legends and lore throughout the commonwealth and its regions, and Massachusetts’ official folk hero is none other than John Chapman, a missionary and gardener from Leominster who many know solely as Johnny Appleseed. But he isn’t the only folk hero to have traversed through New England: in 1834, Davy Crockett made a visit to Boston.

Portrait of David "Davy" Crockett from
An Account of Col. Crockett's Tour to the North and Down East (1835)

David “Davy” Crockett had made a name for himself in East Tennessee for his hunting and storytelling prowess before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827. During his lifetime, he was already the stuff of legend: a satirical play centered around a Crockett parody character named Nimrod Wildfire had opened in 1831, starring popular actor James Hackett in the title role.

This play, as well as an unauthorized biography of Crockett, appropriated his image and reputation and inspired him to create a biography “written by himself.” The memoir was politically driven and not as factual as he claimed, but it led him on a book tour that eventually brought him up to New England. After the book tour, he also wrote an account of the three-week tour itself.

The second publication, An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East, was published 1835. After visiting Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, he arrived in Boston.  “I must… tell you where I stopped in Boston – and that was just where anyone that has plenty of cash, and plenty of goodwill for pleasure, would like – in a clean street, with a tavern on one side, and the theatre on the other, and both called Tremont,” he wrote.

Like many tourists that visit Boston today, Crockett saw the sights: “Fanuell Hall,” as he spelled it, where he saw the “accourtrements of war for several companies of infantry and riflemen”; Quincy Market, described as simply, “the market… mayor Quincey’s hammers were keeping time on the big granite stones, and the beautiful pillars were rising up as if he had just ordered them”; the Bunker Hill monument, which was still being built during his visit; the Old State House, where he gave a speech; and the current State House, where there was a statue of George Washington of which he did not approve: “They have a Roman gown on him, and he was an American: this a’n’t right… he belonged to this country-heart, soul, and body: and I don’t want any other to have any part of him – not even his clothes.”

He included an amusing dig at his nemesis Andrew Jackson in his record about the trip: the USS Constitution had a new figure-head in the likeness of Jackson, and when Crockett was asked if it was a good likeness, he responded, “I had never seen him misrepresented; but that they had fixed him just where he had fixed himself, that was – before the Constitution.”

Crockett declined a visit to Harvard University in Cambridge during his trip, comically fearing that “they keep ready made titles or nicknames to give people [there]… I would not go, for I did not know but they might stick an L.L.D. on me before they let me go; and I had no idea of changing ‘Member of the House of Representatives of the United States,’ for what stands for ‘lazy lounging dunce.’” He also visited Roxbury, or “Roxborough,” before heading up to witness the planned industrial city of Lowell, Mass.

“Mill Girls” in the Making-up room, Lawrence Hosiery Co., Lowell, Mass., ca. 1865.
Image courtesy of Historic New England.

Lowell had only been incorporated less than ten years earlier in 1826 and Crockett was absolutely marveled by the brand new manufacturing center. The female workers, Crockett observed, were “all well dressed, lively, and genteel in their appearance; indeed, the girls looked as if they were coming from a quilting frolic.” He toured the factories, speaking to the young girls who worked there, noting that “not one expressed herself as tired of her employment, or oppressed with work: all talked well, and looked healthy.” His accounts of Lowell make the manufacturing center sound like heaven on earth and certainly contain propaganda in favor of the mill-owners that were leading his tour. Only months before his visit, the Lowell mill girls had organized an unsuccessful strike against wage reduction.

Despite these literary works, Crockett was not re-elected in 1835 and famously (or infamously) damned his Tennessee constituents that “they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”  He arrived in Nacogdoches as the turmoil of the Texas Revolution began. Later he went to San Antonio, where he famously fought in the Battle of the Alamo and died on March 6, 1836, the last day of the 13-day siege. His death further catapulted him into the annals of American folklore, and today he is one of the most instantly recognized folk heroes in America.

The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk.

Further Reading:

An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East (1835) available online:

Thompson, Bob. “David Crockett, celebrity pioneer, went from wrestling bears to wrestling with his image.” Washington Post, February 8, 2013. <>

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff