Monday, April 27, 2015

Stories of Massachusetts

When a researcher called looking for items written by the Massachusetts Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, one work, listed above caught my eye. The Stories volume was compiled on behalf of the Boston School Committee and sponsored also by the Massachusetts Department of Education. It was published in 1940/1941. Topics in the work include: The Great Boston Fire of 1872, Garrison the Liberator, The Building of the Constitution, and The Other Oliver Wendell Holmes.  But, one story, is particularly timely: The First American Subway. With the T, so much in the news, a look at its beginnings is an interesting endeavor.

Some points from history about the Boston subway:
  • During the years 1892-1894, the General Court passed legislation to set up the Boston Transit Commission whose task it was to find how the congestion in Boston could be lessened.  A “Tremont Street Subway” was proposed.
  • Even though people were using cars pulled by horses and there was only one electric line, the idea of a subway was met with great opposition, especially by the business community fearing commerce would be disrupted. An Anti-Subway League was founded, but their wishes were thwarted by a city vote in July of 1894 where those wishing the construction to go forward were successful, though only by 1000 plus votes.
  • During these early years, the Chief Engineer Howard Carson visited Europe, staying in London and Budapest to study their systems. He found that the air quality in the London Tube was poor and made sure to develop a better system for the city of Boston.
  • On March 28th, 1895, construction on the subway began at the meeting of Boylston and Charles Streets.  The Chief Engineer was joined by Governor Greenhalge, members of the Commission other dignitaries and interested parties.  There were also hundreds of laborers wanting to find work.
Governor Frederic T. Greenhalge,
Picture 1-55, State Library of Massachusetts.
There were several crises during the construction, including the finding of the bodies and burial places of hundreds of the dead. These were reburied.  Also, in March of 1897, a gas leak caused the deaths of 10 workers who were digging at the site.
  • In September of that year, the subway was opened to much amazement. On opening day, the Park Street to the Public Garden ride was taken by between 200,000 and 250, 000 people.  In awe of the new transportation system, it was the turnstyles which added to some consternation as well as to bewilderment.  Young couples in particular, it is documented, did not like the need to be separated from one another!!
Over the years, of course, the Boston subway system has grown and grown. The T is a very proud accomplishment for the city, though problems have surfaced over the last months of very unprecedented weather. What will happen in the future to this vital part of the life of the city is to be determined.  Our government leaders are and will be deciding what to do.  There will be new initiatives and legislation coming and coming soon.

To track all of the additions to this transportation system and to follow the current situation, a visit to the State Library in person or remotely can help.  For legislation passed each year, for example, one can visit our Acts and Resolves section on our website. Items on transportation which are online can be located in the Digital Collections section.

To find a wealth of material, one can visit us here in the State House. We are located in Room 341 and our Special Collections is in the West Wing, Room 55.  Please go to our website at: You will see the link to Digital Collections on the left.

Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Poetry for Boston

April is National poetry month and Massachusetts has a number of famous poets who were born, raised, educated or lived their lives in our cities and towns. Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickenson and Stanly Kunitz could all call Massachusetts home and many wrote poems and stories inspired by the people they knew, places they lived and scenes they saw. The State Library of Massachusetts has a number of these poets’ works in our collection as well as biographies and compilations.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I went looking through our catalog for poets or specific poems to highlight. While searching, I came across a number of poetry books with a focus on the city of Boston. I was struck by the broad range of the subjects, authors and tones of these poems, each celebrating (and at times even lamenting) the same city. The three books I chose to further concentrate on for this blog where picked for their drastically different styles and years that they were written or published.

Poems of the "Old South" is a volume of poems published in 1877 by William F. Gill to help raise funds for the preservation of the Old South Church, also known as The Old South Meeting House. “Old South” was originally built in 1729 as a Puritan meeting house where people assembled up through the American Revolution. In 1877, the church was nearly demolished but was saved when it was established as a museum and Poems of the Old South was put together so raise money for preservation work needed at the time.

Most of the poems in the collection praise the church and its historical significance to Boston. Many of the poets regard it as a symbol of liberty due its connection with early colonizers who came to the new world. James Freeman Clarke’s poem boasts in his personified work The "Old South" Speaks that:
Though prouder domes are elsewhere swelling, 
And loftier spires salute the morn, 
Let Boston save the plain old dwelling
Where Freedom for mankind was born”

Boston in My Blood was written by Elizabeth F. Leach, a local school teacher and poet. Born in Brookline, a Boston University graduate and a teacher in the Somerville school system for 40 years, Leach was a Massachusetts native through and through.  In 1963, Leach privately printed and published the book of poetry, Boston in my Blood.

Leach’s poems have short lines that fall into simple rhyme schemes. Her poems offer witty remarks that at times may only be understood by a Bostonian. Her poems fall into distinct categories such as “Of Boston Bachelors” or “Spinsters of the Hub”.  Colleges get their own section with titles like BU? BC? BC? BU? B-Musing and The Man From MIT.  Other poems take us on a ride geographically, from Balloon Man at the Garden’s Gate to March Winds Along Boylston Street, winds that can still be felt as you walk through Copley Square.  Although published in 1963, many of the poems continue to ring true today including Subway Sputtering’s which describes subway woes at peak commuting house even 50 years ago:
When it’s Five o’clock at Park Street
As commuters mill about,  
One can hear the starters shouting,
“Let’em  out, please let ‘em out!” 
Once that last Lechmere survivor 
(We must hope that he is thin)
Has descended, comes the struggle, 
“Let’em in, please, let’em in!”

After the Boston Marathon Bombing in April of 2013, Deborah Finkelstein, a poet, playwright and professor, wanted to help. Like One: Poems for Boston is an anthology of poetry created to raise money for The One Fund, a charity for Boston Marathon victims. Finkelstein chose works from many well-known poets such as William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman, but also has a large selection of modern writers as well.

What is incredible about Like One is that while a few pieces mention Boston, it is not a book focused on the city or the bombings per say. Instead, it brings together a series of poems that inspire unity and healing, like what happens to communities after a tragedy. Part of the reason for this feeling is that Finkelstein encouraged poets and people to send in poems that have lifted their spirits in their own lives. At the end of Jill McDonough’s poem Accident, Mass Ave., a piece describing a minor accident between herself and a woman, she writes after the two have yelled and swore at each other:
Well, there’s nothing wrong with my car, nothing wrong
with your car…are you Ok? She nodded, and started
to cry, so I put my arms around her, and I held her, middle
of the street, Mass. Ave., Boston, a couple blocks from the bridge.
I hugged her, and I said We were scared, weren’t we?
And she nodded and we laughed.”

McDonough finds a perfect way to describe the fear that was felt in the city at the time of the bombings and how we found ways to heal, whether it was with poetry or each other.

Check out more information for National Poetry month here. For events in Massachusetts see the Boston National Poetry month Festival and Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Librarian

Monday, April 13, 2015

Abraham Lincoln's Assassination

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, from
The History of Abraham Lincoln, and
The Overthrow of Slavery
, by Isaac
N. Arnold. Chicago: Clarke & Co., 1866.

In a communication to the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives just two days after President Abraham Lincoln's death on April 15th, 1865, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew—a strong supporter of the President—expressed his sorrow for the country’s great loss:
“…I desire on this grave occasion, to record my sincere testimony to the unaffected simplicity of his manly purpose, to the constancy with which he devoted himself to his duty, to the grand fidelity with which he subordinated himself to his country, to the clearness, robustness, and sagacity of his understanding, to his sincere love of truth, his undeviating progress in its faithful pursuit, and to the confidence which he could not fail to inspire in the singular integrity of his virtues and the conspicuously judicial quality of his intellect.”

From Massachusetts House Document #227, 1865, page 3.

Special Collections Department

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let it Melt, Let it Melt, Let it Melt (and We Did)

Newton Highlands 1978

Now that spring is here, we might have a better perspective about this past winter and all the snow it brought. We got a lot of snow! In fact in seven days between January 27th and February 2nd Boston got a record breaking amount of snow of 40.5 inches which broke the record from January 1996 of 31.2 inches.  Other records set in Boston this year include:
  • the snowiest month on record with 64.6 inches as of February 25th, 2015,
  • record snowfall in 30 days of 94.4 inches from January 24 - February 22, 2015 and 
  • fastest amount of time for six-foot snow to fall; 72.5 inches in 18 days from January 24-February 10, 2015. 
One of New England’s most memorable blizzards is the Blizzard of 1978 where Boston got 27.1 inches between February 6th and 7th.  This blizzard was made worse by the high tides and flooding along the coast. This blizzard is in 2nd place of the top heaviest Boston snowstorms, the first being February 17-18, 2003 with 27.6 inches.

According to, on March 5, 2015 Boston reached 105.7 inches of accumulated snow, and on March 15, 2015 at 7 pm Boston broke the record with 108.6 inches of snow for the season, when it received 2.9 inches of snow that day. Since that time we have gotten a few more inches.  Snowfall for Boston is officially measured in East Boston at Logan Airport.  The average snowfall in a snow season for Boston is usually 43.5 inches.  The top five snow amounts during a season are:
  1. 1995-1996   107.6
  2. 2014-2015   110.6
  3. 1993-1994     96.3
  4. 1947-1948     89.2 
  5. 2004-2005     86.6
Official records go back to 1891.  However there are other notable snowstorms before 1891. According to the New England Historical Society one such storm was called the Great Snow of 1717, which produced 5 feet of snow in New England and the New York colonies, between the dates of February 27 through March 7, 1717.  There was so much snow that the Puritans could not hold church services for two successive weeks as reported by Cotton Mather. Another storm was called the Great Blizzard of 1888 struck on March 11, 1888 in the northeast killing more than 400 people and dumping as much as 50 inches of snow in Massachusetts. This storm is also referred to as the Great White Hurricane.

Henry David Thoreau writes about the coldest winter in New England from December 1856-January 1857.  On January 17th, it was 20 degrees below zero in Salem.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) provides valuable information on weather related topics including: hypothermia, how to clear a roof of snow and Ice Safety.

Image from MEMA's website.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian