Monday, December 23, 2013

Eben Norton Horsford and His Norumbega

Ever wonder why there are Norse references dispersed in and around the Boston area?  Eben Norton Horsford (1818-1893), scientist, Harvard professor, and amateur archaeologist, began his life-long effort in the mid-19th century to prove that an ancient Viking settlement, believed to have been established in the year 1000, once thrived in the Cambridge and Watertown areas along the Charles River, and at the confluence of the Charles River and Stony Brook tributary on the Waltham-Weston boundary.

The mythological ancient Norse city of Norumbega was once understood to have been located in the northeastern section of North America, in what the Vikings called “Vineland” (or “Vinland”), long before Horsford’s findings.  In the 16th century, French explorer Jean Alfonse (or Allefonsce) described finding the city and its inhabitants in the Penobscot River region of Maine, and many early maps of North America place Norumbega in this region.  In the early part of the 17th century Samuel de Champlain set out to locate Alfonse’s discovery, but was not able to find any trace of the city; as a result, Champlain removed all mention of it from his maps.

Horsford authored many works on the subject, which included a lot of visual evidence (such as photographic plates of his archaeological discoveries, and maps of areas he deemed significant) that supported his theory that Norumbega was located in Cambridge and Watertown.  He went so far as to erect Norumbega Tower in 1889 on the Weston-Waltham border of the Stony Brook on the site where he believed the city’s fort was once situated.  A plaque was also placed along the Charles River in Cambridge that marks the supposed site of Leif Erikson’s house, and a statue he commissioned of Erikson can be seen on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.  In addition to the physical evidence, Horsford claimed to have found etymological connections between Old Norse used in the sagas and Algonquian vocabularies, suggesting that similarities in place names further proved there was Viking influence in the area.  His research, though, was not without strong criticism from the academic community (see The Defences of Norumbega), and the archaeological discoveries in L’Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland are widely accepted as being the only true evidence (so far) of Norse pre-Columbian contact with North America.

The library’s collection includes a number of books and pamphlets authored by Horsford and his daughter, Cornelia, who followed in her father’s research footsteps, on the topic of Norumbega.  For further information on these items or others in the library’s collection, please call our reference desk at 617-727-2590 or email us via our our “Ask a Librarian” page.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Civil War Remembrance: The Sesquicentennial of the Consecration of the Gettysburg Battlefield: Two Speeches on that Day

November 19th of this year marked the 150th anniversary of the day in 1863 when people gathered to remember those who died in the battle at Gettysburg. It was there that one of the most famous speeches in American history, The Gettysburg Address, was given by President Abraham Lincoln:
Address Delivered at the Dedication of the
Cemetery at Gettysburg
Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Students all over the United States study this speech,and in many cases are required to memorize and to recite it. The battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania had taken place on July 1st-3rd 1863 and the enormity of the losses there still echo.

What is less well-known is that it was not President Lincoln,  but Governor Edward Everett of Massachusetts who delivered the oration at the consecration that day.   It was Lincoln’s role instead to give what was termed the “Dedicatory Address.”             
This begs the question: Who was Edward Everett?

Everett had had a distinguished and varied career serving as a Congressman from Massachusetts, and also as the state’s United States Senator and its Governor.  His career path included teaching Greek at Harvard and serving for a short time as President of the college. He served in the ministry as well.

His speaking prowess was well-known. He was considered one of the most prominent orators of the Antebellum and Civil War era and when the search was held to determine who would give the oration on November 19th, 1863, he was the unanimous choice of the seventeen Governors involved in planning the momentous occasion. After accepting their invitation, Everett spent two days in Gettysburg preparing and studying the geography of the battlefield.  His speech lasted almost two hours, an amount of time not unusual for the day.

Everett spoke of the young men who had perished on the battlefield, for it was their bravery and sacrifice which was being remembered.  His eloquent oration has also been remembered for its noting of the need for reconciliation.

Soon after the day and its historical remembrances, Everett and President Lincoln exchanged congratulatory letters about how highly each viewed the other’s rhetoric.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war, it is so important to mark once again that day in Gettysburg. A gathering was held in Pennsylvania to mark this important piece of history. Civil War historian James McPherson was the keynote speaker.
President Lincoln’s famous “address” will continue to honor the nation for many years to come.   And, although Edward Everett’s oration is seldom mentioned, it will also be studied by those with a keen interest in the Civil war, be they scholars or citizens, who remember the overwhelming losses suffered during this war, and the ultimate sacrifices on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Pamela Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Federal Medical Information Available Online

There are two special websites available to obtain free medical information from the Federal Government:  the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The National Library of Medicine started in 1836 and it is the world’s largest medical library. The library’s medical dictionary is a multi-faceted book designed to help understand the complexities of medicine.  Available online, the dictionary has three main sections: health topics; drugs and supplements; and videos & cool tools. The dictionary also has pages about word parts, their meanings and common abbreviations.  There is a tutorial available entitled:  Understanding Medical Words.

Health topics cover symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention for more than 900 diseases. This area of the dictionary is updated daily and is divided into areas such as: body location/systems; health and wellness; demographic groups; disorders and conditions and diagnosis and therapy.
Videos & cool tools have interactive tutorials; surgery videos and anatomy videos.  Games and quizzes also are found on the website.

Drugs, supplements and herbal information contain information about over-the-counter medicines; dosages; side effects and special precautions. Dietary supplements and herbal remedies are also detailed. Some of the topics included are: vitamins, steroids, pain relievers, cold medicines, cancer chemotherapy, blood thinners and anti-depressants.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) started in 1887 as a Hygienic Laboratory to study bacteria.  In 1922, the name was changed to Public Health Services and a special cancer investigations laboratory unit was established at Harvard Medical School.  In 1930 it was re-designated the National Institutes of Health.

Starting in 1967, Congress awarded grants, to research heart disease, cancer and strokes. There are now 27 separate institutes and centers doing research in biomedical science. Included in the institutes are: National Institute in Aging; Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Human Genome Research; Advancing Translational Sciences; Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and Dental and Craniofacial Research. Ten percent of the funding for NIH is “in house” and eighty percent is to outside researchers at more than 3,000 institutions. 
The NIH website,, and the NLM website, are available to all on any computer, but we invite you to access them at the State Library in rooms 341 and 442 of the State House on Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm. 

Bette Siegel
Government Documents Librarian

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Brown Bag On “Learning About Your Family History”

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
on Tuesday December 17th, 2013
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and come hear Mary Ellen Grogan, President of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and her colleagues, teach you how to research your family history.   You have probably seen celebrities on TV programs like “Who Do You Think You Are?”  Genealogy is not as easy as it seems on television, but everyone can do it, especially in Massachusetts. It is rewarding and will give you insight into the story of your family. Come and join us for the basics of research and be prepared to open whole new topics for discussion at the holidays. The presentation will include discussion of usage of vital records and the census.  The subject of DNA will also be broached.

We will look at some of the resources at the State Library used in Massachusetts family history: town histories, vital records, maps, city directories, and town reports.

To register, please go to 

You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or e-mail to to let us know you will attend.