The holiday season is in full swing at the State House with holiday music filling the halls on a daily basis. Boston itself is full of holiday traditions—from the lighting of the menorah and Christmas tree on the Boston Common to ice skating on the Frog Pond to the year-long awaited holiday performances of the Nutcracker ballet and the Boston Pops concert at Symphony Hall. The State Library’s collections yield a few eclectic items tied to the holiday season. One of the most peculiar is a small 14 page booklet, The Alpine Edelweis: a Christmas Song from 1886 which contains an ode to the edelweiss flower made famous by the song everyone knows from the The Sound of Music. Christmas Eve on Beacon Hill by Richard Bowland Kimball, is another diminutive 16 page booklet from 1918 recounting the tradition of illuminating Beacon Hill windows with candles on Christmas Eve (one would hope that today those candles are electric!). A third, Christmas, Boston Image from 1964 showcases eerie, almost otherworldly black and white photographs by Dave Lawlor which literally capture a snapshot of Boston life “frozen” in that moment with its many classic film shots of day and night winter and holiday scenes taken around Boston. It is a glimpse into the past to holiday traditions and Boston scenes that remain the same today, even 50 years later, and how plenty have changed over the years. Happy Holidays!
While researching Massachusetts governors recently, I came across an interesting item in our collection having to do with Governor Endicott Peabody. Governor Peabody was the State’s 62nd Governor and served a single term from January 3, 1963 to January 7 of 1965. While it is not odd that we have a number of resources related to Massachusetts legislators, governors and historical figures, I was surprised to find an item called The Wartime Story of Governor Peabody. This booklet is a compilation of articles written in March of 1963 by Edward G. McGrath for the Boston Globe. The ten part series tells the story of the U.S submarine Tirante in World War II and Lt. Endicott Peabody’s role as an officer on board. The articles include a number of black and white photographs of the crew members on board, ships sinking through the lens of a periscope and officers receiving Medals of Honor.
The details of the Tirante’s exploits were classified for about twenty years before the Boston Globe requested that The Navy Department release some of its information. Governor Peabody was newly elected at the time, upsetting Republican incumbent John Volpe by a slim margin, and reporters were probably hoping to get as much information about their new governor as possible. But what is amazing is that these articles were clearly cut out of the newspaper, glued to a piece of paper, laminated, stamped with a three-hole punch and bound together by red string. There is a strong resemblance to an old scrapbook put together by a proud parent many decades ago.
The Wartime Story of Governor Peabody was probably saved by a State Librarian. Before scanning or digital publications became common place, librarians had to find other ways to hold onto articles, brochures and pamphlets with information regarding Massachusetts. Newspaper does not hold up over time, (and from a preservation stand point the obvious smudges of glue are an example of what not to do,) but many steps were taken to make sure this article would be available for patrons and researchers in the future.
Today, librarians spend less time cutting and pasting clippings or creating books for patrons to read, but time is spent collecting information. While we do have microfilm and print copies of many historical newspapers, we also subscribe to databases so that our patrons can search for articles. We pull reports off the internet and catalog them into our digital repository, creating booklets as PDFs instead of with glue and ribbon. While the steps we go through may be quite different, our goal to make information available is still the same.
Charles Street Jail by Joseph McMaster Thursday, December 17, 2015—Noon to 1:30 pm State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House
Please join us at the State Library at noon on Thursday, December 17, for an Author Talk with award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker Joseph McMaster, who will be speaking about his newly released book Charles Street Jail. Opened in 1851 near Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, this elegant granite building was hailed as one of the finest jails in the country and was lauded for the humanitarian treatment of its prisoners. Also known as the Suffolk County Jail, this building housed some of Boston’s most notorious criminals, including future Boston Mayor and Massachusetts Governor James Michael Curley and Boston organized crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger.
Conditions in the Charles Street Jail deteriorated over time, however, leading to the jail’s closure in 1990. After sitting vacant for over a decade, this stunning building was eventually transformed into the completely renovated Liberty Hotel. This luxury hotel retains many of the architectural elements original to the building, including the jail’s expansive central atrium and catwalks. Mr. McMaster’s new book includes over 200 historic images, including photographs of the jail from the time of its original construction to its recent renovation, as well as photographs of the infamous prisoners who were housed within its walls.
Mr. McMaster’s talk on the history of the Charles Street Jail is free and open to the public, and copies of the book Charles Street Jail will be available for purchase and signing at the event. Please register online and join us on December 17th at the State Library.