Monday, October 30, 2023

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the State Library! Enjoy these creepy-crawly finds from the collection.

COMMON SPIDERS, 1902 
SPIDERS: THEIR STRUCTURE
 AND HABITS, 1890

Looking for more spooky reads? Check out the titles below!

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World (2022) - Written by Malcom Gaskill, a historian and leader in the study of witchcraft history, The Ruin of All Witches is a nonfiction account of 17th century Springfield, Massachusetts and the strange happenings which gripped the community. In 1651, Springfield started experiencing unexplained events and witchcraft was thought to be the cause. Blame was soon cast on Hugh and Mary Parsons - a young couple with an unpleasant reputation in the town. Described as riveting and absorbing, The Ruin of All Witches, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of 17th century New England. 

Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries (2022) - Author and journalist Greg Melville takes readers on a tour of the country’s cemeteries. From the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in L.A. to Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Melville explores the influence these spaces have on landscape architecture, literature, society, and even sustainability. Over My Dead Body is a fascinating look at how Americans memorialize the dead.

New England Legends & Folklore (2017) - A reprint of Samuel Adams Drake’s (1833-1905) classic compilation of New England legends and folklore includes stories of pirates, witchcraft, ghosts, creatures and more! Read about the Sea-Serpent of Nahant, The Bell Tavern Mystery of Danvers, or The Shrieking Woman of Marblehead. Also includes popular legends of Rhode Island and Connecticut. 


For more thrillers, check out Libby! State Employees can use their State Library card credentials to download Libby, the library reading app. Sign-up for a library card today! Did you miss last week’s Author Talk on the Salem Village Witch Trials? You can view author Daniel Gagnon’s recorded discussion of his biography on Rebecca Nurse on our YouTube channel!

Happy Halloween and happy reading!


April Pascucci
Legislative Reference Librarian 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Reading Recommendations from the Browsing Collection

Located in the entry hall into the Newspaper and Periodical Room (Room 442), we have a new collection of nonfiction and fiction titles for library visitors to browse.

Here are some books from the Browsing Collection you may enjoy reading during October whether you like to read mystery, horror, or nonfiction:

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben

Do you happen to be a fan of Liam Neeson and the Taken film series? Then you’d probably like reading I Will Find You. David Burroughs is a man wrongfully accused of murdering his young son, Matthew. Six years later, while serving his prison sentence, David finds out that his son may still be alive. He hatches a plan to escape prison so he can find his now 9-year-old son. With the FBI in hot pursuit after his escape, will he succeed in rescuing his son? And will he be able to clear his name?

Verity by Colleen Hoover 

Having a hard time choosing between a romance book and a horror book? Why not read something that  is both? Lowen Ashleigh, an aspiring novelist, is struggling to make ends meet as a ghostwriter. She is offered a well-paying gig after witnessing a fatal accident and being guided into a coffee shop by a kindly stranger. The kindly stranger happens to be Jeremy Crawford, the husband of famed author Verity Crawford. He asks Lowen to finish his wife’s series of best-selling novels since her health prevents her from completing them. After they bond over recent losses in the coffee shop—Lowen over the loss of her mother and Jeremy over the loss of his twin daughters—Lowen decides to accept the job offer. While going through Verity’s manuscripts of partially written novels, she makes a chilling discovery about Verity. As Lowen spends time at the Crawford home in Vermont, she wonders if she should tell Jeremy the truth as she falls for him.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

If you are more of a cozy mystery fan rather than a thriller or horror reader, this book is for you. A mystery set at an aquarium in Puget Sound where an elderly janitor named Tova forms a friendship with Marcellus, a Giant Pacific Octopus, after saving his life. The novel is partially narrated from the perspective of the curmudgeonly Marcellus, who decides to find out the truth about the death of Tova’s son, Erik, 30 years prior. The tentacled gumshoe finds a way to communicate with Tova as he uncovers the truth behind Erik’s tragic death and something that will impact Tova’s future.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

A mesmerizing, suspenseful nonfiction book about the wrecking of the H.M.S. Wager in 1741 off the coast of Chile and the mutiny that soon followed. David Grann draws from a treasure chest of primary sources– diaries, letters, logbooks and more--to construct a lively historical narrative. Two separate groups of survivors from the wreckage arrived in Brazil in 1742, each with a different version of events. Accusations of treacherous behavior and murder culminated in a court martial to uncover the truth. Whichever party was found guilty of mutiny and murder would hang.


Emily Crawford
Technical Services Librarian

Monday, October 16, 2023

Author Talk with Daniel Gagnon

The State Library of Massachusetts Author Talks Series is excited to host author Daniel Gagnon on October 25th for a seasonally appropriate talk on the Salem Witch Trials.

Please join us on Wednesday, October 25th at noon, in our historic reading room to hear Daniel Gagnon speak on his 2021 book, A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. For anyone who cannot make it into the library, we will be livestreaming the talk on our YouTube channel, courtesy of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Broadcast Services. The recording of the talk will also be made available on our YouTube channel post-event to enjoy at your convenience this spooky season!

About the book: A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse is the first complete biography of Rebecca Nurse. In 1692, the inhabitants of Salem Village entered a period of hysteria and fear as accusations of witchcraft spread. Rebecca Nurse was one of the accused. Nurse, an elderly, well-respected member of the community was put on trial and eventually executed despite the support and protests from her family and neighbors. Daniel Gagnon expertly uses primary research to give readers the full account of Nurse’s life and gives a new perspective on the witch trials in today’s view. 

About the author: Daniel Gagnon is an author and researcher focused on the Salem Village Witch Hunt of 1692. He serves on the board of directors for the Rebecca Nurse Homestead Museum. He is also active in local history serving as a member of the Danvers Historical Society and serving on the Town of Danvers’ Salem Village Historic District Commission. For more on Daniel and his work, visit his professional site

If you are able to join us in person for this talk, attendees will be able to participate in a question-and-answer session with the author as well as purchase a copy of A Salem Witch. As always, this author talk is free and open to all. Assisted listening devices will be made available upon request. Any questions or concerns, please email us at AuthorTalks.StateLibrary@mass.gov.

Want to stay up to date on future Author Talks at the State Library? Join our mailing list. Also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or X for the latest updates! For more information on the State Library Author Talks Series, please visit our site: https://www.mass.gov/state-library-author-talk-series.


Author Talks Working Group

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Caw caw! There are crows in the library!

For a slightly spooky experience, be sure to visit the library from through November 9 to see the Purple Grakle, or Common Crow Blackbird (plate 7) on display in our Audubon case. The male and female birds are shown on a corn stalk. There must not have been a scarecrow in this field to protect the crop, because the two birds are depicted caught in the act of eating! In fact, the female is sown with corn kernels in her beak, while the male is perched below her.

Scarecrows, which are designed to look like humans, are placed in fields to protect crops from crows and other birds. The use of scarecrows dates back to antiquity, though nowadays they tend to pop up most frequently this time of year as Halloween or autumnal d├ęcor. When a scarecrow is in use and a crow is deterred from pilfering corn, it also eats acorns, berries, and seeds, along with small rodents, crayfish, and insects. You can read more in the Audubon Field Guide.


Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Story of William Blackstone, Boston, and the Apple in North America

Happy fall, everyone! As a New England resident, one of my favorite fall treats to enjoy is a crisp apple from one of our many local apple orchards. Nothing says “fall in New England” more than a freshly picked apple (other than a pumpkin spiced latte of course). Do you know the history of the apple in the United States though? Today we’ll tell you the story of Reverend William Blackstone (or Blaxton) and how he brought the apple to this country.

Image courtesy of Boston Magazine

Blackstone, born in Lincolnshire, England around 1595, was an early colonial settler with an interesting story. His mother passed away when he was a young boy. In 1621, he was ordained by the Church of England and then lost his father not long after. Left alone in England without parents, he heard of the Plymouth and Jamestown settlements and decided to make his way across the ocean for a new life, along with his collection of books. He arrived in what is now Weymouth, MA in 1623. The Weymouth settlement didn’t last long, and in 1625 the other settlers who had been with him traveled back to England. Blackstone, however, moved north to present-day Beacon Hill in Boston and lived there by himself for five years on the Shawmut Peninsula, becoming the first European settler in Boston.

Image from Rev. William Blackstone,
the Pioneer of Boston

In 1629, Isaac Johnson, one of Backstone’s fellow students from Emmanuel College (Cambridge), and the Puritans landed in nearby present-day Charlestown. The land was rocky there, making it difficult to tap wells. Knowing the difficulties they were facing, Blackstone wrote a letter to Johnson, letting them know about the natural spring on the land that he was living on and invited them to settle there. On September 7, 1630, the Puritans took Blackstone up on his offer, leaving Charlestown and settling on the land Blackstone was living on. Only a couple weeks later, on September 30, 1630, Johnson died and as his last act as the leader of the Charlestown community, he named the new settlement “Boston", after his hometown of Boston, Lincolnshire. Eventually the number of settlers grew in Boston and Blackstone decided to sell his parcel of land to the city. That land became a town common, where cattle were free to graze. Today, this land makes up most of Boston Common. It was on today’s Boston Common land where Blackstone planted the first apple seeds in the colonies. Historians also credit him with the nation’s first apple orchard, which grew in Boston Common sometime in the 1620s.

Image from William Blackstone,
Boston's first inhabitant

Upon leaving Boston in 1635, Blackstone moved to present-day Cumberland, Rhode Island a year before Roger Williams arrived. He married at 64 years old and had a son a year later. On May 26, 1675, Blackstone died in Cumberland, RI, where he had settled 40 years earlier. Today you can visit the Founders Memorial in Boston Common, which shows Blackstone greeting John Winthrop and inviting him and his group to the Shawmut Peninsula. You can also visit Blackstone’s grave in Cumberland.

Image courtesy of Digital Commonwealth via
Boston Public Library

Blackstone came to America and, as author Thomas Amory wrote of him, “here he dwelt, solitary and alone, raising apples and roses, and reading his books, of which he had a plentiful supply.” He was an interesting figure in history and if you’d like to learn more about him, feel free to reach out to us at reference.department@mass.gov and/or look through some of the resources below.

Works consulted and other articles of interest:


Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

Thursday, October 5, 2023

State Library Newsletter - October Issue

Curious about what's happening at the State Library this month? Then check out our October newsletter! 

Pictured here is a preview, but the full issue can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.




Monday, October 2, 2023

On Display in the State Library

One of the busiest spots in Massachusetts during the month of October is the city of Salem! And though the crowds, traffic, and parking might make it difficult to visit this time of year, you can check it out through our displayed collection item. Visit us this month to see “City of Salem” a 1916 map that is part of our Special Collections holdings.


The map was published by the Walker Lithograph and Publishing Company, which was located at 400 Newbury Street in downtown Boston. Though this map is just an individual page, you might notice the page numbers “34” and “35” printed in the top left and right corners. That is because this map was originally part of the Atlas of Massachusetts, which was compiled under the direction of O.W. Walker, with assistance from more than one hundred civil engineers and surveyors. In addition to the individual map on display this month, our library holdings also include the full atlas, which has been digitized and can be accessed here. In the preface, Walker writes, “The information it [the atlas] contains represents a vast amount of labor, the design being to represent as many of the important features and locations as possible without giving the maps a crowded appearance.” And as the library’s preservation librarian, I appreciate that the preface also includes this notation, “the paper was made especially for this purpose by one of the acknowledged leaders in that great industry. It is a Bond paper that will be found adapted to resist reasonable use for many years. The bindings are all neat and substantial.” You can read the full preface and explore all of the towns and cities in the atlas by clicking on the link above.

And now for a closer look at the map itself, which shows the boundary lines of Salem as it appeared in 1916. The map lays out the city’s streets and provides street names, along with identifying buildings like schools, city hall, the county jail, the Custom House, and the railroad station. Extending into Salem harbor are the city’s wharves and even a designation for Derby Wharf Light Station. But one of the more prominent features on the map is the illustration of Salem Common, which dates to Salem’s earliest European settlement in the 1620s. Salem was first settled by Europeans in 1626, making it the second oldest settlement in the state, and colonized in 1628. Before Europeans arrived, the land was known as Naumkeag and inhabited by Indigenous people of the Massachusetts Tribe. From Salem’s Pioneer Village website, we learned that in 1626, “Naumkeag homes (known as wigwams) were discovered “abandoned” due to seasonal travel by the indigenous population, and the English took them over for their own dwellings.” Read more about Naumkeag and the people who originally lived there on the Pioneer Village website. When Salem was inhabited by European settlers, Salem Common was established as an area to be collectively used (hence the name “common”) for animal grazing. It became a more established park in the early 1800s and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Visit us through November 1 to see this map on display and check out all of the nooks and crannies of Salem that you might want to explore once the October crowds wind down. And while you are visiting us, be sure to check out another case in our library that shares books on the spookier side of Salem!


Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian