Monday, March 5, 2018

A Closer Look at the MacArthur Scrapbook

I recently wrote about a scrapbook documenting General Douglas MacArthur's visit to Massachusetts that made its way to the preservation lab because it needed to be re-housed. When an item comes to the lab, my primary concern is addressing its preservation needs but I also spend a little time examining these items and appreciating their historical value. When I started working on this scrapbook I initially thought that it only contained photographs, but I was surprised to find that nestled amongst the pages was a menu for a dinner held in General MacArthur's honor. Personally, one of my favorite items in special collections are historical menus. On an aesthetic level, I love looking at the intricate designs, illustrations, and ornaments that adorn menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. On a research level, I appreciate the information that we can glean from them, which often provide insight into popular foods and dinner customs, entertainment culture, class, and the economy during a specific point in history.

The MacArthur menu is a dinner menu from the Oval Room at the Sheraton Copley Plaza (now the Fairmont Copley Plaza) and is dated July 25, 1951. According to the hotel's current website, the Oval Room is considered one of the most beautiful rooms in Boston with a sky and cloud mural painted on its ceiling. Given this location and the fact that a special menu was printed for the occasion, we can guess that MacArthur's dinner was a formal affair. The cover of the menu is illustrated with his profile and a welcome message, and our copy also includes his signature, written in pencil. The following two pages list the wide variety of items that were available for dinner, ranging from the "Chef's Special" - a grilled ham steak Hawaiian style for $2.00 - to the sirloin steak for two, which at $9.00 is the priciest item on the menu. When I come across a historical menu, I always like to examine the options and figure out what I would have ordered and how much it would have cost me. I also usually find that there are at least a few menu items that aren't familiar to me, or that don't sound appetizing at all to my 21st century palate. I encourage our readers to take a close look at the menu and do the same!

Beyond food items, the menu also tells us a little bit about nightlife culture in the 1950s. The menu indicates that music and dinner service was until 9:00 p.m., followed by dancing until close. There was no cover charge at the Oval Room, but I was curious about two taxes that were printed on the menu - a Massachusetts old age tax of 5% and an amusement tax of 20% (but only after 9:00 p.m.). A little bit of digging revealed that the Massachusetts old age tax was a 5% state tax on meals that cost over $1.00 to help fund the Old Age Assistance Fund, a state program that was similar to Social Security and was in existence from 1941 to 1955. A version of the amusement tax, also referred to as the fun tax, is still around today. Tickets to sporting events, concerts, and other "fun" activities are exempt from sales tax, but they can be subject to separate amusement tax. Luckily, eligible amusement and recreational services today are not taxed at 20% today like they were in 1951!  

The MacArthur menu is now housed in an acid-free paper sleeve and stored along with the photographs from the scrapbook. Taking some time to look deeper into the content of the items that I work on is a fun part of my job, and I look forward to the next interesting item that makes its way to the preservation lab.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Friends Newsletter - March issue

It is the first of the month and that means the Friends newsletter is out and it is full of information about the Library's coming events. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Congressional Duel and Massachusetts’ Reaction

This past Saturday marked the 180th anniversary of a fatal duel between two United States congressmen.  On February 24th, 1838, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, right outside the border of the District of Columbia, a duel between Representative Jonathan Cilley of Maine and Representative William J. Graves of Kentucky was held, which resulted in the death of Cilley after three rounds with rifles.  The trouble began when Cilley accused James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, of taking bribes.  Webb responded to these accusations through a letter and asked Graves to deliver it to his detractor, who declined to accept it.  Further discussion between Cilley and Graves about the refusal worsened the situation and, although they had no known grievance against one another prior to this, Graves felt that his character was also under attack and challenged Cilley to a duel.  Three days after Cilley’s death a funeral, attended by President Martin Van Buren, was held in the U.S. House Chamber.

The Massachusetts General Court was horrified by the event and, in official statements, called the practice “savage, cowardly, and abominable” before amending the language to “immoral, unchristian, and unlawful.”  Massachusetts laws prohibiting duels and levying punishments on participants go back as far as the early 18th century, as evidenced in the following acts:

A joint select committee was quickly formed in the General Court to review the matter and to determine what action, if any, should be taken.  The committee’s scathing report found that, despite most states having laws in place against dueling, one major problem was an overall “reluctance on the part of the public, to prosecute and convict … offender[s]” due to the sentiment of bravery and honor associated with it.  The report also pushed federal legislators to use their influence and “all reasonable exertions” to “procure the passage of a law by Congress” that would suppress the custom once and for all—with many states submitting similar petitions.  In February of 1839, after a lengthy debate in the U.S. Congress, a law was passed (Chap. 30) that criminalized the challenging or acceptance of duels in the District of Columbia; this law strengthened earlier 18th century laws in DC that merely banned the act itself.  As public opinion changed over time, dueling in the United States saw a decline during the Civil War era and eventually came to an end in the 1880s.

Other congressional duels:
Further reading:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

March Author Talk: Brooke Barbier

Boston in the American Revolution: A Town versus an Empire
by Brooke Barbier 
Wednesday, March 7, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, 
Massachusetts State House

Join us at the State Library on Wednesday, March 7, for an author talk with Brooke Barbier, author of Boston in the American Revolution: A Town versus an Empire

Boston in the American Revolution explores the truths behind the myths of the key players in the American Revolution, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. These historical figures come to life in vivid detail in this lively and entertaining read. In addition to its fresh perspective on the years leading up to the Revolution, Boston in the American Revolution provides a guide to the sites in the Boston area where these important historical events unfolded.

Author Brooke Barbier is the founder of Ye Olde Tavern Tours, which offers spirited tours of the Freedom Trail in Boston. She earned her Ph.D. in American History from Boston College, where she studied the history of Boston before and during the American Revolution. Before founding her historical tavern tour business, she worked as a historical consultant for the
Boston Red Sox.

Dr. Barbier will be selling and signing copies of Boston in the American Revolution at the conclusion of her talk. We invite you to register in advance, and we look forward to seeing you on March 7 at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Upcoming Author Talks at the State Library:

Monday, February 12, 2018

The History of Black History Month

February is Black History Month, but did you know that this celebration was first held in 1915 at the Chicago Coliseum.  The celebration was originally called the Lincoln Jubilee and was held 50 years after Lincoln passed the emancipation of the slaves.  It was sponsored by the state of Illinois.  One of the participants was Carter Woodson, who had a doctorate from Harvard. He and other exhibitors had a black history display.  The celebration lasted 3 weeks and thousands of people came.  Afterwards Woodson met with other people they decided to form an organization to promote scientific study of black life and history. They called it the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).  In 1920 Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote achievements that researchers were uncovering.  In 1924 Woodson’s old fraternity created Negro History and Literature Week which was renamed Negro Achievement Week.

Woodson sent out a press release for the first Negro History Week in February 1926.  He chose the month of February because Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays are celebrated during February.  Woodson did not believe in celebrating the lives of only two men but the black community “should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.”  After World War I there were many black people who had migrated to the North and were doing well because of urbanization and industrialization.  There was a lot of racial pride and consciousness.  Woodson expanded the (ANSLH) and established the Negro History Bulletin in 1937 at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune.   She was an educator, humanitarian and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Florida.

During the 1940s the study of black history expanded.   In the South, black history was often taught to supplement U.S. history in schools.  It is said that there was one teacher who would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk in order to not anger the principal.  Many years before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations of black history would eventually come to an end.  Woodson never intended black history to be about black firsts and a parade of black icons.  He intended the observance to combat institutional hatred of black people and this new information would be included in the teaching of American history.

In the 1960s Negro History Week was on its way to becoming Black History Month.  In the 1940s, West Virginia, where Woodson made speeches often, black people, began to celebrate Negro History Month.  Frederick H. Hammaurabi, a cultural activist in Chicago, also began celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960’s. As black college students became more aware of links to Africa, Black History Month began to replace Negro History Week.  In 1976 on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week Black History Month was celebrated nationally.  We now call it African American History Month.

Since the 1970s every President has issued a proclamation for endorsing the ASNLH African American’s annual theme of achievement.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, February 5, 2018

Red, White , and Yellow: The Many Faces of the Bulfinch State House

The State House of Massachusetts is easily one of the most iconic buildings in Boston. The classic Federal exterior, the pillars, and the stunning golden dome inspired Oliver Wendell Holmes to crown it “the hub of the solar system,” and Boston is still known as the “the Hub” today. But the original State House, completed in 1798 and designed by Charles Bulfinch, did not always exemplify the brick-based style that is so characteristic of Boston itself. For the majority of the 19th century, it wasn’t even red.

Etching of the State House, painted white, during the Bunker Hill celebration,
Ballou’s Pictorial c. 1850s.

In 1825, during Charles Bulfinch’s lifetime, the State House of Massachusetts was painted bright white by Gore & Baker, who charged only $2,631.19 for the job. Many of Boston’s famous buildings were being similarly painted, possibly to protect the brick and make it water tight (Preservation by Prevention). Throughout the 1800’s, the Bulfinch fa├žade was painted several more times, though the color was often left out of the receipts of work. Ellen Mudge Burrill, who wrote several guide books regarding the State House, estimates that thirty years after it was first painted white, the State House was changed to yellow. This is explains by the extension behind the State House, built in 1895 and designed by Charles E. Brigham, was built with yellow brick rather than with red.

Postcard of the State House showing the Brigham extension, ca. 1901-1919

Throughout these many faces of the State House, some people thought that the Bulfinch building should be replaced all together to make way for a bigger, better building. By the 1890s, despite consistent maintenance to the building and an expansion in the 1850s, the overall condition of the State House had caused some legislators to suggest demolition. This caused a public outcry, inspiring petitions, articles, pamphlets entitled “Save the State House,” and a “ladies committee” that demanded preservation of the historic landmark (State House Historic Structures Report). Thankfully the Legislature decided to preserve, not destroy, the building in 1896. Instead, the State House was expanded again with white Vermont marble and granite wings designed by designed by William Chapman, R. Clipson Sturgis, and Robert D. Andrews and built between 1914 ad 1917.

Postcard featuring the State House, painted white, with the new
 East and West Wings, ca. 1913-1918.

However, by the 1920s, a desire to restore the old buildings of Boston hit the city. The Park Street Church, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, and many other important early buildings were being stripped of their coats of paint and restored to their traditional brick facades. This was in part because of a Romantic Movement inspired by the (often misinformed) restorations of medieval structures in Europe, as well as the rise of an Arts and Crafts Movement that wanted to expose the rough brick and the “’honest’ crafts of the past,” though it is possible they were misinformed as well (Historic Masonry Finishes). Because the State House was painted during the architect’s lifetime, it is possible that it, as well as other Georgian and Federal brick buildings, were always meant to be painted.

Fanueil Hall and the Old State House before they were restored to their original
brick facades. From the Postcard collection of the State Library of Massachusetts'
Special Collections department.

However, around 1910 some wondered whether the State House should also be restored. On July 12, 1927, Ellen Mudge Burrill submitted a report to Fred Kimball, the Superintendent of Buildings, calling for the restoration of the State House, citing the restoration of the other historic buildings in Boston and the State House’s own architectural importance. Kimball requested permission to strip the paint from Governor Alvan T. Fuller on July 18, 1927 and the next year, workmen began sandblasting the Bulfinch building’s paint away.

The sandblasting was an immense project. The State House had layers and layers of oil paint, much of which had to be burned after it was removed. One article described the work as such: “There are four men doing it, two in each ‘gang.’ They work on a scaffolding lowered down the side of the building by means of a hoisting tackle… While one man applies the acetylene torch, the other, with a long-handled scraper removed the burned paint. The process leaves a surface that looks as if it has gone through a siege of fires” (Boston Post, 1928).

Cover of the January 1953 publication of Telephone Topics showing the restored front of the State House

After the restoration was completed, most appeared to have very favorable opinions on the State House’s new look. One reporter wrote that passersby “never saw the old front with its gilden dome look so attractive” and that the exposure of the brick “is widely considered an unexpected architectural triumph” (Corbett, 1928). But not all liked how the red brick and the granite wings looked together: another writer declared that the newly stripped State House “reminds him of a lean corned beef sandwich” (“The Restored State House,” 1928). Another writer reflected on an opinion that suggested the stripped brick was “indecent” and the only proper course of action would be to “cover it up and forget it… put [it] in the Art Museum along with the other nudes” (M.A.A., 1928). Thankfully today both citizens and tourists of Boston share the view that our beautiful State House is indeed an architectural triumph, and few today have compared it to a sandwich.

See Also:

Works Cited:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference staff

Thursday, February 1, 2018