Monday, July 25, 2016

Mount Greylock State Reservation and State Parks in Massachusetts

Image of Mt. Greylock and an inset of Francis W. Rockwell, one of the
first Commissioners of the Mount Greylock State Reservation. From
The Glory of Greylock, by Francis W. Rockwell, 1921.

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. National Park Service and the month of July is National Parks and Recreation month. It seems only right, therefore, to highlight the state and national parks here in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts State Forests and Parks Service was founded in 1898 as an effort by the Greylock Park Association to protect Mount Greylock, the state’s tallest peak. The association had been established as an effort to save the mountain from the logging and charcoal-making industries that deforested and cut roads into the slopes, but the cost of protecting and maintaining the Association’s land holdings on the mountain soon outweighed the little revenue raised by tolls and admission fees. Several environmental organizations such as the Massachusetts Forest Association, the Trustees of Reservations, and the Appalachian Mountain Club assisted the Greylock Park Association by lobbying the Massachusetts Legislature to purchase Mount Greylock and dedicate it as a State Reservation. This law, Chapter 543 of the Acts and Resolves of 1898, also provided funds for operating expenses and for purchasing more land.

1917 Trail Map for Greylock State Reservation.
From Guide to the Greylock State Reservation (1917)

Further efforts at land conservation in Massachusetts were primarily concerned with fighting reforestation, ensuring water conservation, and restoring wildlife rather than recreational activities such as hiking or camping. Public use of the land increased through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a federal work relief program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which built many of the roads and recreational facilities in the state forests and parks of Massachusetts.

Today, the Division of MassParks, part of the Department for Conservation and Recreation (DCR), maintains almost 300,000 acres of land, including forests, beaches, mountains, trails, and parks throughout Massachusetts. Promoting the parks and recreational facilities is one of DCR’s primary goals, and their website provides a wealth of information and tools for park enthusiasts. Trail maps are easily attainable for many of the parks as downloadable PDFs and MassParks has created a recreational activity search engine to connect you with events and activities going on throughout the state. You can even download the MassParks Adventure Guide app, available via the Apple App Store or Google Play, to add more to your state park and recreational experience. Celebrate National Parks and Recreation month this July by checking out some state parks near you!  

Alexandra Bernson

Monday, July 18, 2016

Massachusetts Citizens’ Right to Free Petition

Massachusetts is the only state in the country that gives its citizens the right to file bills directly in its state legislature.  This right of free petition is first mentioned as the 12th liberty in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), which was intended for use as guidance for the General Court at the time:
Every man whether Inhabitant or fforreiner, free or not free shall have libertie to come to any publique Court, Councel, or Towne meeting, and either by speech or writeing to move any lawfull, seasonable, and materiall question, or to present any necessary motion, complaint, petition, Bill or information, whereof that meeting hath proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and respective manner.
This right can also be found in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which is also the oldest constitution in the world that is still currently in use.  Article XIX of Part the First, which is one of 30 articles that makes up the “Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” states:
The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.
Now that you, the Massachusetts citizen, know your right to petition—where do you begin?  It’s important to first take a look at some introductory resources that will help you understand general procedures as well tips on how to draft a potentially successful piece of legislation:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Dangers of “Moving Pictures”

Mellen as Representative
in 1888
In 1910 Representative James Henry Mellen of Worcester, who served for many years until his death that same year, submitted a petition (House No. 433) to the Massachusetts legislature to consider an investigation into the “great moral, mental and physical danger” of moving pictures.  His many concerns include:

  • Greed of the motion picture industry;
  • Coarse language and slang heard in theatres, especially in the presence of women and children who have “never frequented theatres before;” 
  • The “havoc” that “jerky flickering films” are causing on people’s eyes, young and old;
  • Objectionable pictures being shown, especially those from Paris “where the morals are low,” which could physically affect women “in a delicate condition” and influence gangs of “desperadoes” by desensitizing the population to crime;
  • The negative influence “pictures of vice” have on young girls, making them more susceptible to victimization;
  • Children idolizing film characters as “real heroes in life;”
  • The lack of fire protection in many small theatres.

Text of 1910 HB433

It doesn’t appear that anything came of the investigation, if there was one, as no report could be found within the legislative documents.  Many of Mellen’s arguments seem amusing now (especially his fixation on the Parisians) since motion pictures have become a regular part of everyday life and censorship is overall much more lax.  However, technological developments in more recent history, such as television, video games, the internet, mobile devices, have been met with similar concerns.

The library continues to upload its collection of legislative documents online, which are a valuable source of historical sentiments and developing attitudes surrounding various topics that were of both great and minor importance to Massachusetts citizens.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy Independence Day, America!

Happy 240th Birthday to the United States! Is history possibly repeating itself with the recent “Brexit” vote and the British desire for a greater control over its own affairs and independence that seems to mirror the events leading up to the American Revolution? Political intrigue is the constant that seemingly makes living either in 1776 or in 2016 most “interesting times” as the famous saying goes. 

There is no disputing that Boston is the epicenter as the “cradle of liberty” where the American independence movement all began with “the shot heard round the world” back in April of 1776. Over the ensuing years the popular traditions of celebrating American independence may have changed from formal political orations to informal backyard cookouts, but the spirit of any  celebration still remains true to John Adams’s original notion that American Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more” (Original letter found here).  Granted, Adams was writing about what some might call the “real” Independence Day, July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress of the original thirteen colonies voted to approve a resolution of independence resulting in a legal separation from Great Britain. It is the July 4, 1776 date printed on the more famous, widely circulated, and ratified Declaration of Independence (not that the document ever called itself by that name!) that has been adopted as our national birthday.

On July 3, 1781 Massachusetts became the first state legislature to recognize July 4, “the anniversary of the independence of the United States of America” as an official state celebration (Resolves of 1781, Chap. 123) and today some of the traditions still celebrated have their roots in how New Englanders celebrated all those years ago.  Of course, what Independence Day celebration now would be complete without a fireworks display? Lesser known is the New England tradition of creating enormous bonfires on the night of July 3 which were the centerpiece of town July 4th celebrations during the early half of the 20th century. The bonfires were generally built from wooden barrels and casks and set ablaze at midnight in order to usher in “a new year of liberty.” During the 1960’s as cardboard replaced wood and as fireworks became a cheaper, safer, and more modern alternative, they replaced the bonfire tradition except in some North Shore towns like Rockport where the July 4th bonfire tradition still continues on.. 

Another fascinating July 4th tradition is the “Horribles Parades” that take place all over Massachusetts, including in my hometown of Mendon. The parades trace their origin back to the country’s oldest military organization, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, chartered in 1638. Members of the Company, colloquially known as “the ancients and honorables,” would march in a haphazard collection of different military uniforms and as a result of this outwardly comical appearance to spectators the idea to “mock” them in a parody parade featuring “antiques and horribles” was born and first held in Lowell on July 4, 1851. Other towns were also inspired to participate in this new holiday custom and the “horribles” parades boomed in popularity as competitions sprung up between towns as to which one could have the most outrageous parade. Today the remaining “horribles” parades are more for fun and amusement--featuring adults and children dressed in costumes that commonly lampoon local and national political figures and current events in true satirical New England Yankee fashion. Happy 4th of July!

The State Library’s collections contain numerous resources on the history of the War of Independence and Independence Day.  

Some classics:

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services