Amy Whorf McGuiggan is the author of My Provincetown: Memories of a Cape Cod Childhood; Christmas in New England; and Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song.
Past projects have included curating, researching and writing the exhibition Forgotten Port: Provincetown’s Whaling Heritage (for the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum) and Albert Edel: Moments in Time, Pictures of Place (for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum).
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During a walk in the historic cemetery in my town, I spied a headstone perched at the edge of one of the steep terraced slopes. It caught my attention not only because it seemed ready to topple over the edge, but also because it was different: it appeared to glow with a bluish color in the spring sunlight. With a kind of eagerness, I suspected that it might be one of the “trendy” monuments that I had read about and that had had a brief popularity during the Victorian Era.
I made my way up the hill, reached the monument, and proceeded to apply the proof test by knocking on the surface (hoping and praying that no one would knock back!) and, indeed, it was hollow. I had found, quite inadvertently, my first example of a grave marker made of cast zinc. Continue reading White bronze→
When I was a kid enjoying idyllic summers in Provincetown, a familiar face in the West End of town where I stayed was that of Johnny Oliver, born in Provincetown in 1899 to Manuel Oliver, who had emigrated from Brava, Cape Verde, and Mary Boatman, born in Provincetown to Portuguese parents. During my childhood, there were any number of “characters” in Provincetown, those otherwise regular, hardworking folks who just seemed to have a rhythm all their own. Johnny was one of them.
He was old enough to be my Dad’s father, but he and my Dad, who had grown up in Provincetown, seemed to hit it off and I often saw them jawing out in the street, Johnny always animated no matter what story he was telling, and my Dad enjoying every minute of it. Continue reading Past is present→
Before she married my grandfather, my paternal grandmother was Vivienne Isabel Wing. Born in Rumford, Maine in 1903, six generations after Simeon Wing (1722–1794) and his family had traded Sandwich, Massachusetts for the wilderness of New Sandwich, Maine (incorporated as Wayne in 1798), my grandmother was proud of her Wing ancestry; at times, she lamented that as an only female child she would be the last in her long line to bear the name.
I recently revisited one of my all-time favorite books, The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Years ago, when I first discovered the book, I raved about it to anyone who would listen. “You HAVE to read this book,” I’d implore. “What’s it about?” they’d ask. “It’s about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary,” would be my enthusiastic reply, whereupon I could immediately sense a kind of let-down, as if they were saying You’re kidding, right? A story about a dictionary? Why not a telephone book? My reply was “Trust me, there’s more to it than just the dictionary and you won’t be able to put it down… You’ll wish it would never end.” My would-be converts assured me that they would check it out and off they scampered, every bit of their body language saying, Not a chance. Continue reading A madman and his family→
Here in my hometown we are blessed with an exquisite landmark building, the 1681 meetinghouse known as Old Ship Church, whose name may have been inspired by the building’s vaulted roof, resembling a ship’s hull, built of oak timbers. Used originally as a gathering place for both civic discussion and religious worship it is, today, the oldest church structure in the United States in continuous use. Behind the meetinghouse is the town’s oldest cemetery, whose earliest burials pre-date construction of the meetinghouse. Sometimes called the First Settlers graveyard, it is the final resting place of the families who founded Hingham – Cushing, Lincoln, Thaxter, Beal, Hobart – their descendants, and other prominent residents – including two Massachusetts governors. It is one of the few historic cemeteries where burials are still taking place.Continue reading Touched by an angel→
A few months ago I had an unexpected email from one of the editors at Applewood Books in Carlisle, Massachusetts, informing me that they were reprinting the Christmas book I wrote in 2006. Needless to say, I am delighted that the fifty or so stories about New England Christmas traditions will now reach a new generation of readers, but I wondered if the stories, after all these years, would still hold up.
I immediately grabbed my dog-eared copy of the book and began flipping through the pages. Surprisingly, the stories had staying power, which is the whole point of traditions, isn’t it, that we can rely on them, or should be able to rely on them, to not change too much down the generations. Traditions are like families: with each generation there are permutations, something new added to tweak the mix, but the family resemblance is still there. Continue reading Jingling all the way→
Not long ago, when two names popped up on my Churchill family tree, they had the ring of familiarity. I probed my memory as to where I might have encountered them but just couldn’t place them until I noticed that this husband and wife are buried in Hingham’s High Street Cemetery. Then, it all came back to me in one of those Really? moments that makes one wonder how often, because the timing isn’t right, we cross paths with something relevant to our lives but pass it by unknowingly and obliviously. Continue reading Deep roots→
When the time comes for me to plunge into my Boston Irish Catholic ancestry – my Tierneys, Quinlans, Sweeneys, and Kellards – I intend to make full use of the Catholic parish records that are currently being digitized by the historic collaboration between NEHGS and the Archdiocese of Boston. Until that time, I am comforted in knowing that these precious records are safely ensconced online, for all eternity, ready at the click of the mouse.
Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t already been dabbling in a few things Catholic. Indeed, my current project took me to Braintree, Massachusetts, to the Archives of the Archdiocese of Boston (www.bostoncatholic.org/Archives) in search of answers about my Protestant grandfather, John Osborne, he of stern Puritan stock, who, we were always told, had been orphaned at a young age. Continue reading Divine intervention?→
For family historians whose ancestors may have been associated with the visual arts, the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art is a preeminent repository of primary sources (www.aaa.si.edu). Founded more than sixty years ago, the collection – whose vast holdings include diaries, letters, scrapbooks, financial records, oral histories, and exhibition catalogues – is a must-visit for researchers. And so it was for me, back in 1988, when a research project first took me to the Archives, then with an office on Beacon Hill in Boston. There, I settled in to pore over the microfilmed scrapbooks of the Provincetown artist fraternity called the Beachcombers where my grandfather, John Whorf, had been a long-time member. Continue reading Forever Provincetown→