Tag Archives: Object Lessons

The Jeffers Engine

The Jeffers Engine sits in the basement of Station 2 of the Woonsocket Fire Department, covered in dust and surrounded by workout equipment. Built by William Jeffers of Pawtucket, pulled first by hand, then by horse, and now missing its pump, the first steam fire engine the department purchased in 1872 is a far cry from the massive engines in the garage above.[1] Something in the large red wheels and the big dull water drum shares their spirit, though. It too once raced through the streets of Woonsocket towards scenes of danger, carrying fire fighters just as determined to save lives and livelihoods as those who serve today. Continue reading The Jeffers Engine

White bronze

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

Passing the torch

Portland’s current mayor, Ted Wheeler, poses with our former principal. During senior year, Ted served as class president and I as class historian, so I guess we both ran true to form!

I recently attended a gala celebrating the 150th anniversary of my high school in Portland, Oregon. When I was a student there, and even at its 125th anniversary, Lincoln was billed as the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi. However, it turns out that Lowell High School in San Francisco (presumed to be private because it’s open to only a few select students, like Boston Latin) was actually the first. Curiously enough, both schools use the colors red and white; they share the cardinal as mascot. This coincidence is even stranger when one considers that zero cardinals live on the West Coast! Continue reading Passing the torch

Miniature works of art

Richard Bowers Oliver

Following up on Patty Vitale’s recent post on her Uncle Dominic’s war photography, I can offer another take: photos created by Private Richard Bowers Oliver (1913–1985) at Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, during the Second World War.

Oliver seems to have been the camp’s official photographer, a member of the Public Relations Office.[1] While much of his work covered the camp’s daily life, there were occasional celebrities to be seen, as when Cab Calloway (1907–1994) paid Camp Wheeler a visit. Continue reading Miniature works of art

Popham’s promise

The John Hunt map. Courtesy of canadianhistoryworkshop at WordPress

When I was a child, my mother and grandmother enjoyed taking me and my siblings to Fort Popham and Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, Maine. We loved exploring the Civil War-era fort, combing the beach for sea glass and shells, and ending the day with a visit to a candy shop along the way home for glittery rock candy on a stick. As a child, the 100+-year-old Fort Popham appeared to be ANCIENT. But lying-in-wait several hundred feet away was the long-forgotten and soon-to-be-rediscovered 412-year-old Popham Colony of 1607. Continue reading Popham’s promise

Dom Vitale’s war

Some of Dom Vitale’s fellow soldiers.

Last year, while going through boxes of old photos at my dad’s house, we came across a plastic bag containing hundreds of photos taken by my great-uncle Dominic Vitale during the Second World War. The photos were curled and disorganized, but on the backs of many of the photos Uncle Dom had written the names of his buddies who were in the photos, as well as dates, locations, and the names of their hometowns. I took the photos home with me, hoping to find a way to organize them electronically and eventually find relatives of his army buddies who would appreciate seeing them. Continue reading Dom Vitale’s war

Digging deep

I have found over the years that most family historians are so intent on pushing back to the next generation that they often do not stop to see what their family tree is telling them about the generation they just identified. Additionally, with the advent of “type in a name” research, many family historians are content to find the record and move on to the next record, or the next suggested record, without ever stopping to ask why or how their ancestors ended up recorded in a particular document. After all, the records that genealogists use to trace the family connections were not created with genealogical research in mind. Family historians have found ways to pull family information out of vital records, military draft cards, census records, passenger ship lists, and more to aid them in tracing their family back through the generations. Continue reading Digging deep

The long way around

My ancestors are like everyone else’s ancestors, I suspect: entertaining, frustrating, sometimes obstinately invisible, always playing hide and seek, changing our perspectives and perceptions of them and of ourselves. They leave us their legacies and properties, perhaps confident that we will care for them as they themselves would without considering that we might develop other plans. Continue reading The long way around

Selecting images for a family history

My late mother-in-law, with her father, in 1927.

How do you choose photos for a family history? Someone recently asked me that excellent question. She happened to have dozens, if not hundreds, of photos and didn’t know how to start. I had never really come up with guidelines for selecting photos, but as I answered the question, I realized that I do have some rough rules of thumb: Continue reading Selecting images for a family history

Past is present

S-4 Memorial in the garden of St. Mary of the Harbor, Provincetown.

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