Monday, November 30, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

As Thanksgiving ends and we look towards the upcoming holiday season, it’s time to pick a new item for our virtual display! This December, we’re sharing Christmas Eve on Beacon Hill, a small twenty page booklet from our collection that dates to 1918.

Christmas Eve on Beacon Hill was written by Richard Bowland Kimball, a resident of the neighborhood, with drawings done by Maurice Day. Kimball, who was a new arrival to Beacon Hill, writes that he was unaware of Beacon Hill’s Christmas Eve celebrations when he first accepted an invitation from a friend to participate. He describes walking around the neighborhood and seeing “candles beyond counting in the windows. Delia Robbia Madonnas or painted medieval ecclesiastical carvings fastened to the old housewalls, green wreaths on the old white doors, Christmas trees behind the panes; and moving among the groups, church choirs, led by trumpeters, stopping and singing before the houses old carols.” Kimball was experiencing a popular Beacon Hill tradition that had begun almost a decade prior. 

Beacon Hill decorated with candles in the windows and carolers on the streets can be attributed to Elizabeth Cram, wife of architect Ralph Adams Cram. Circa 1907, Elizabeth urged her friends to place candles in their windows on Christmas Eve, and after being well received, the group formed the Chestnut Street Christmas Association. The association began formally organizing Christmas Eve candle and caroling festivities, and it proved to be so popular that people came from around the city to visit Beacon Hill. In the coming years, the tradition of lighting candles even spread elsewhere in the city as well as to cities far and wide. As Kimball writes in 1918, “Last year Christmas Eve was celebrated with candles and carols as far west as San Francisco, as far north as Labrador.” As a fun Christmas addition, you can also click here to see a Cram family Christmas card designed by Ralph Adams Cram and held in Historic New England’s ephemera collection. 

As the preservation librarian, I should also note that this booklet could use a little repair work! Based on the digitized images, it looks like there is a fair amount of non-archival adhesive tape that was used for mending over the years. In the lab, we would try to remove that tape, mend the pages, and perhaps re-do the simple pamphlet stitch that was done as the binding. Some general cleaning would give it a nice fresh look, too! Though we’re not in the lab at the moment, I can flag this item for preservation attention once we’re back on-site, and maybe it will look good as new by the time the holiday season rolls around in 2021! 

We are featuring the cover of this booklet here on the blog, with its ornate font and a beautiful night time illustration looking up Chestnut Street to the golden dome of the State House. The image is flanked by taper candles, similar to the ones that would have been found in the windows of Beacon Hill homes. To see the full booklet, be sure to check it out on DSpace. Take a close look at all of the festive drawings of Beacon Hill windows adorned with wreaths and candles. And regardless of how or if you celebrate the holiday season, we wish everyone a happy and healthy December full of good cheer.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, November 23, 2020

December Author Talk: Nicholas Basbanes

Register Online

On Monday, December 7, enjoy a lively dialogue about the life and work of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) and his multi-talented second wife, Fanny Appleton Longfellow (1817-1861). Nicholas Basbanes, author of Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, will be joined by Diana Korzenik, compiler of the Appleton Family Archives, to discuss their respective views of this dynamic couple at various stages of their lives.

Cross of Snow, the result of more than twelve years of research, is the first major literary biography of Longfellow in more than fifty years. Since the biography’s release in June, reviewers have taken particular note of the modern feminist approach Basbanes has employed to give full biographical attention to Fanny, taking in her work as a brilliant artist, diarist, correspondent, and chronicler of her times.

Nicholas Basbanes is an award-winning investigative journalist and the author of ten critically acclaimed works of cultural history; his first book, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and was a New York Times Notable Book. His 2013 book On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History was one of three finalists for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and was named a best book of the year by six national news organizations. Basbanes also writes the “Gently Mad” column for Fine Books & Collections magazine, lectures widely on book-related subjects, and is a frequent contributor to Humanities magazine and other publications.

This free virtual event is presented as a partnership between the American Inspiration author series by American Ancestors/NEHGS and the State Library of Massachusetts, produced by GBH Forum Network. To register, please visit: 

Be sure to check out the other upcoming author events hosted by our partner, American Ancestors/NEHGS:

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Good news from the State Library of Massachusetts!

In this year of the 400th anniversary of the arrival in 1620 of the Mayflower in the Wampanoag homeland, in what is now called the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Plimoth Patuxet Museums and the State Library of Massachusetts announce the publication of a groundbreaking new edition of William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation

For the last year or so we have worked with our colleagues at Plimoth Patuxet to take digital images of the original manuscript and transform them into a brand new publication: a full facsimile of a document that is almost 400 years old. 

The State Library has been the custodian of the Bradford Manuscript since its return from England in 1897. After then-Governor Roger Walcott placed the manuscript with the State Library, the original volume was on public display downstairs in our reading room for many years in a specially-designed secure display case. Since then our curatorial responsibilities have evolved significantly, so we now work very hard to make the work accessible to as many people as possible through digitization and facsimiles. You can see the entire volume on our website, and, when we re-open after the pandemic protocols have ended, you can visit us here in the State House to see many different published transcriptions and facsimiles. 

In 2012, we secured funding to have the manuscript conserved and digitized, using the expert services at NEDCC—the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in Andover, Massachusetts. The conservators there performed a careful evaluation of the volume, digitized it to document its condition, tested all paper and ink, and then dis-assembled it to repair damage the volume had suffered during its long lifetime. You can read about this process on the NEDCC website if you’re interested. After the volume’s pages were repaired, it was digitized again, and then sewn back into its original vellum binding, and placed in a handsome custom-designed box. We keep it stored securely, in an environment with consistent temperature and humidity, and rarely bring it out of those conditions.

The digital images from NEDCC allowed us to put the entire volume in our digital repository, DSpace, so anyone with a computer and internet access can see it in great detail by starting at the home page of the State Library web site. We also had those images printed and bound, in a few copies for people to see in the State Library, and one of those copies is on display in our reading room.

But we wanted to do more to make the volume more accessible to more people. So last year we started working in earnest with our colleagues at Plimoth Patuxet to design a brand-new facsimile that could be printed and sold at a reasonable cost. We wanted people to be able to read Bradford’s own words, in his own handwriting, so they can see the actual words of one of the primary players in the Pilgrim story. 

The book, available exclusively through Plimoth Patuxet’s gift shops and at, will be launched November 19, 2020 at 7:00 p.m., via a special online event hosted live by Plimoth Patuxet and featuring comments by bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick. The event is free, but registration is required at

Books will be available for purchase on November 19; however, those wishing to be notified of its availability are welcome to sign up at the link here:

Monday, November 16, 2020

Resources Documenting the Development of Transportation Systems in Massachusetts

Image from the Massachusetts Department
of Transportation-Highway Division
Provincetown to Boston, station no. 248, Sandwich.
The State Library of Massachusetts has a robust online resource documenting the development of transportation systems in Massachusetts during the 19th and 20th centuries. This site brings together information on canals, railroads, and highways and provides easy access to digitized state documents and other materials in its collection, such as maps, manuscripts, photographs, annual reports, and hearings. 

Researchers interested in accessing the site and documents can do it through this link:

Image from the Hoosac Tunnel Photographs
Hoosac Tunnel : view of machine shop--east end
This project was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Silvia Mejia
Special Collections Librarian

Monday, November 9, 2020

Massachusetts, a Pioneer in the “Good Neighbor” Policy

The State Library of Massachusetts has enjoyed a rich and colorful history since its origins, which date all the way back to 1811.  One of the Library’s most important early functions was exchanging statutes with other states; from there it evolved into a comprehensive research library with one of the largest collections of national and foreign government documents in the country.  In fact, as a participating member of state library interchange agreements, these collections were instrumental in helping other libraries in the United States and around the world—especially those affected by war and disasters—rebuild their own collections.  Before the Internet, the best and quickest way to access any type of library material was by having a physical copy onsite.  Loss of collections could be devastating to a library, its patrons, and its surrounding community.

The State Library’s Reading Room in 1912.

A Boston Globe article, published in 1956, states that “Massachusetts was a pioneer in the practical ‘good neighbor’ policy.  Many State libraries or their equivalent which suffered in the Civil War were helped to rebuild by duplicates from Massachusetts.”  Here are some examples of libraries that the State Library has helped through the years:

  • The State Library of New York, which lost over 500,000 books and 300,000 manuscripts to a fire on March 29, 1911.
  • The Michigan State Library, which lost over 500,000 books and documents to water and falling debris after a 1951 fire.
  • The library at the University of the Philippines and the Legislative Library at Manila, which suffered damage and loss to their collections during wartime.
  • Duplicate publications in the State Library of Massachusetts, used to replace or complete library collections, have also been sent to the national libraries of Great Britain, Canada and Australia.

In recent decades the Library’s focus has narrowed on collecting Massachusetts-centric historical and government publications and making them available online in our digital repository whenever possible.  Because of greater electronic access, as well as related “good neighbor” services such as interlibrary loan, these types of requests are now rare.

Example of publications, documented in the Library’s 1880 annual report,
that were received from Canada as part of the State Library’s exchange program.

The State Library’s early annual reports provide lists of books and other materials received through exchange during a given year, as well as how many were sent out to other libraries.  You can view the Library’s annual reports from 1849-current by clicking the following link:

Article cited:
Bartlett, K. S. “State Preserves Key to Canadian History.” Daily Boston Globe, 5 April 1956, p. 18.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Friends of the Library Newsletter - November issue

Keep up with State Library news with the Friends of the State Library Newsletter. To download your own copy visit:

Monday, November 2, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

In honor of Veteran’s Day, this month our virtual display case features four “Welcome Home Day” souvenir programs. Dating to 1919, the programs were printed in conjunction with the Welcome Home Day celebrations that occurred throughout the Commonwealth and the country as soldiers returned to their hometowns from service in World War I. The four programs in our collection are from Somerset, Falmouth, Longmeadow, and Barnstable.

It was spring of 1919 when soldiers began returning home after World War I ended in November of 1918. Large celebrations and parades were held as boats arrived in Boston and other port cities. When soldiers made their way back to their hometowns, Welcome Home Days were organized to honor the service of local sons and daughters. The day was a time for the community to come together to both celebrate the end of the war and soldiers’ return home, and to mourn and honor those that had not come home. Though there was some variation to how each town celebrated a Welcome Home Day, for the most part they included parades, speakers, songs, a presentation of medals, a community meal (sometimes a clambake), and activities like a ball game or tug of war. Some towns used this as an opportunity to unveil an honor roll in the town green, which was frequently also printed within the souvenir program, with a special indication or memorial for those residents who died in service. 

Various towns have uploaded historical images from their own Welcome Home Day celebrations to the Digital Commonwealth. The photographs show parade participants and spectators, buildings draped in patriotic bunting, and signs welcoming home soldiers. You can see these images by visiting the Digital Commonwealth and using “Welcome Home Day” as your keyword search term. 

Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and has its origin in World War I. It was originally known as Armistice Day, designated by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919 as a day to commemorate the formal end of World War I and the soldiers who gave their lives in the war. The federal holiday as we know it now, which has been expanded to honor all those who served in the armed forces, was established as Veterans Day in 1954 and is still celebrated on November 11. Many communities mark the day with a parade, not unlike the parades that were held as part of the Welcome Home Day celebrations.

The souvenir programs have been digitized in their entirety and can be found in DSpace: Somerset, Falmouth, Longmeadow, and Barnstable. Beyond the souvenir programs, the State Library also holds an extensive collection of photographs of World War I soldiers. The Boston Globe donated the collection in 1935, and it includes over 8,000 portrait photographs of soldiers primarily of the 101st Field Artillery, 101st Engineers, 102nd Field Artillery, and 104th Infantry of the 26th (Yankee) Division, in 1935. Also included are some biographical cards that provide basic information about each soldier’s assignment, rank, merit awards, and sometimes a few extra facts from newspaper clippings. The collection is fully digitized and can be searched in DSpace.

The soldier photographs and souvenir programs in the State Library’s holdings serve as an important genealogical and historical resource for the Great War, and also give us a more personal look at the individuals who served. This Veterans Day, commemorate the day by spending some time taking a close look at each in DSpace.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian