Three Herrings and a Pung Ride

When settlers first arrived in New England they had a lot to learn.  One of the first things was how to grow corn.  Native Americans taught the new settlers how to fertilize soil for the corn with “three herrings to a hill,” as Eleanor Roosevelt tells us in This is America, the 1942 photodocumentary she wrote with Hingham resident Frances Cooke Macgregor.

Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Macgregor worked together on the book at the suggestion of the publisher, G.P. Putnam Sons of New York.   The text was written by Mrs. Roosevelt and the photographs were taken by Mrs. Macgregor.  In January 1942 Eleanor came to Hingham to meet with Mrs MacGregor at her Stoddard Street home.  Frances Cooke Macgregor was a published author and photographer.  She had already taken many photographs for the book and she and Eleanor together decided upon those they both felt would be most effective.  The United States had just entered the Second World War and their hope was to produce a book that showed life in small town America and to help Americans understand what it was they were fighting for.

While in Hingham, according to an account of her visit in the Hingham Journal of January 8th 1942, Mrs. Roosevelt dropped in on a League of Women Voters meeting, chatting informally with members and answering their many questions at this time of uncertainty in the country.  The First Lady found Hingham’s architecture, a mix of old colonial mansions, gingerbread Victorians, and charming Cape Cod cottages, to be delightful and much copied in other parts of the country.  She is reputed to have described Hingham Main Street as the most beautiful Main Street in America.

When Mrs. Roosevelt saw Hingham, she felt she had found “a picture in miniature of the whole nation.”  One purpose of the book was to affirm what it meant to be an American, regardless of ethnicity, and Eleanor was thrilled to discover that the Hingham High School football squad that year had players whose families had come from eight different parts of the world and that Hingham was home to Dutch and Polish farmers, Italian shoe makers, and a German harness maker, amongst many others. In 1942 Hingham had a population of 8,000.  It still had 50 farms—but it also had a commuter train., and much of its population now travelled to work in Boston.  There were, of course, schools, churches of all kinds, and a public library with 28,000 volumes.  The Loring Hall movie theater would be showing Citizen Kane the following week.

Children played outside in the still plentiful open spaces.  A favorite winter activity was known here as pung-riding, a term unknown in most of the rest of the country.  A pung was a low box sleigh drawn by a horse. Often hay would be placed inside and the children would snuggle down to enjoy the ride.  The more adventurous would ride on the runners, jumping off one pung and onto another while both were gliding swiftly over the snow.

With Mrs. Roosevelt’s words and Mrs. Macgregor’s photographs, the women wanted to portray American ideals.  They hoped that all across the country ordinary people would recognize themselves in the descriptions of Hingham and its citizens and understand that their values and aspirations were also true of them.

A collection of Frances Cooke Macgregor’s photographs of Hingham—which she personally selected and gave to the Historical Society in the early 1990s—are currently on display at the Hingham Heritage Museum. A presentation of “Tea With Eleanor’ with the actress Sheryl Faye in the persona of Eleanor Roosevelt will take place at Hingham Heritage Museum on Saturday, November 16th at 3:00 pm.  Please click here to purchase tickets on-line or buy in advance at the Hingham Heritage Museum:  seating is limited.  We hope you’ll take advantage of the both of these opportunities to learn more about these remarkable women and their connection to Hingham.

Moving House

Back in 1946 there was a bit of a housing shortage. Hingham dentist Ross Vroom bought a two-story Garrison colonial house on Gallops Island and had it placed on a barge and floated over to World’s End. He had a cellar dug at 22 Seal Cove Road, and the house still sits there today.

Dr. Vroom was no stranger to having a good house moved. Back in 1933 he moved the stately “Squire Norton House” from its original location at 65 Main Street across Hingham Square to 47 Fearing Road and lived there for many years.

Both of these photos are from the archives of the Hingham Historical Society.

A Letter from Home: Easterly Winds and Death

Old letters open a window to the past. There isn’t a genealogist or historian who doesn’t yearn for them. And for good reason: letters carry the voices of our ancestors, they tell us a story. They illuminate our history.

One such letter, written on May 1, 1830 by Hingham resident Benjamin Thomas, Jr., to his uncle Martin Cushing in Maine, contains “sorrowful” news. It relates the death of Martin’s older brother Adna, who died the day before. The story it tells is of working conditions, medical knowledge, and a community caring for its own.

By way of background, Martin and Adna, sons of Isaac and Mary Cushing, were born in Hingham in 1788 and 1785, respectively. Descended from Matthew, the first Cushing to settle in town, they grew up in Hingham Centre, working on the family farm and in the sawmill. As adults, they entered the trades: Adna became a stonemason, Martin a bricklayer. In 1810, Adna married Sarah Leavitt and built a house at what is now 63 Pleasant Street; within a decade, he had moved his family to Leominster. Martin married Susan Thomas and moved to Maine.

In the letter, Benjamin recounts the facts of Adna’s death. He does not indulge in emotion or offer sympathy. From it, we learn that, in the winter of 1830, Adna worked indoors as a stone mason and that “the dust gave him a bad cough.” We learn that spring brought bad weather: there were “3 weeks of easterly winds and mist, by which [Adna] took a bad cold.” We learn that at the tail end of April, while working on a job in Charlestown, Adna fell violently ill and died. We learn he “labored” within days of his death.

When he died, his body “was brought to Hingham by a sail boat,” and “he was buried from M. & F. Burrs house” on the day of his death.

What the letter doesn’t tell us is that Adna was only 44 years old when he died. It doesn’t say how his wife and children learned of his death. Knowing he was buried the day he died, we understand that he was in the ground before most people knew he was dead. We see that immediately following his death a group of friends or co-workers carried his body from Charlestown to Hingham by sailboat. We know the news was rushed to Hingham Centre, and that the Fearing Burrs opened their home for an unexpected funeral. We realize that, in a matter of hours, a coffin was acquired, a gravedigger found, and a minister fetched. We are left to imagine the ripples of grief that spread across the villages and towns as friends and family heard the news.

Martin died seven years after his brother and is buried in Maine. How the letter survived is not clear as his widow is believed to have remarried and moved west, but it was handed down through the Cushing family. Thanks to the letter, we have a better idea of what it was like to live in Hingham in 1830.

Endnotes

Benjamin Thomas Jr. (1799-1854) was a nephew of Susan (Thomas) Cushing, Martin Cushing’s wife. He was the son of her brother, a gunsmith who lived in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III (Genealogical), 1893. Pub. by the Town.

A copy of the letter from Benjamin Thomas Jr. to Martin Cushing was shared with me by researcher Margie von Marenholtz.

Adna Cushing (1785-1830) and Martin Cushing (1788-1837) were two of Deacon Isaac and Mary (Jones) Cushing’s seven children.

The Capt. Adna Cushing house at 63 Pleasant Street was built in 1811, according to the Hingham Historical Commission, Inventory of Historic, Architectural and Archaeological Assets. On Adna’s move to Leomister, see Cushing, James Stevenson. The genealogy of the Cushing family, an account of the ancestors and descendants of Matthew Cushing, who came to America in 1638.1905. Montreal, The Perrault Printing Co.

On M. & F. Burr’s house: Fearing Burr Sr. (1778-1866) had a store and home in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III. Ibid. Adna is buried with his parents and his wife in Hingham Centre Cemetery. Note: His gravestone says he was 45 years old when he died; he was 44, in his 45th year.

Martin Cushing died 20 May 1837. “Maine Deaths and Burials, 1841-1910,” database, FamilySearch, Feb. 2018.

Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?

As we wilt in the summer heat people everywhere are flocking to the beaches, a time honored tradition throughout most of the world.   Today we can choose what we wear to the beach.  This was not always the case.

maryal-knox-sl7.jpgIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dress codes for beachwear, particularly women’s, were very strict.  Women wore bathing costumes that consisted of two or three pieces of clothing often made of heavy black wool.  A two-piece ensemble consisted of a knee-length dress with sleeves and a collar, often in a sailor style, and bloomers or pantaloons underneath.  A three-piece outfit had a top, again often in a sailor style, a skirt, and pantaloons. They were worn with cotton stockings and lace up “slippers” made of embroidered serge (a kind of wool) or flannel.  Head coverings were also worn: either some kind of hat or cap or a kerchief knotted around the head.  These bathing costumes could sometimes contain as much as nine yards of wool! 

There were a number of reasons such cumbersome outfits were worn.  The main reason was modesty, although taking good care of a pale complexion was also considered very desirable.  Curiously, heavy warm bathing attire was also considered necessary because the seawater was cold!

Horse-drawn bathing machines were in common use on many public beaches.   These were huts made of wood, or sometimes just a wooden frame with canvas sides, that were Bathing machineson wheels.  They were used for changing into bathing costumes from street-wear and were drawn into the water by horses.  There were steps down into the ocean so a woman could go directly from the bathing machine into the water, thus protecting her modesty.

Encased in nine yards of wet wool, often further weighed down by weights sewn into the hem to prevent the bathing dress from rising in the water, women found “swimming” a challenge and thus contented themselves with “bathing.”  At many beaches, a rope was be attached to an offshore buoy.  Women would hold onto the rope and jump up and down in the waves!

ropeBy 1907 the popularity of “swimming” had increased and women were frustrated by their cumbersome costumes. When an Australian professional swimmer, Annette Kellerman, came to the U.S. , she wore a form-fitting swimsuit fashioned from a man’s swimsuit (form-fitting pants and pull over shirt).  She was arrested at Massachusetts’ Revere Beach for indecent exposure!  However, women demanded similar swimsuits for themselves and Kellerman soon started a company manufacturing them.

In reaction to these more “indecent” costumes, in the early 1920s, swimsuit laws were passed regulating the amount of skin a woman might expose at the beach.  Swimsuit police patrolled the beaches with tape measures to check any beachwear that didn’t conform, and women were arrested for showing too much skin.

By the ‘30’s different, stretchable fabrics were developed and, happily, swimsuits began to become more like those we wear today.

The pop-up exhibit at the Hingham Historical Society currently shows some beach attire worn by young women from Hingham around 1900. We hope you’ll stop in to take a look.

Pop Up

 

The Howard Foundry at Hingham Harbor

Photo of the Eagle Iron Foundry on Summer Street c. 1895, with Hingham Harbor visible beyond. From the Albert W. Kimball Collection at the Hingham Historical Society

Where we enjoy water views along Summer Street today, there was once a thriving industrial center at Hingham Harbor. On a section of the shoreline between Whitney and Barnes wharves once stood the Eagle Iron Foundry, locally called the Howard Foundry.

The Foundry was built about 1844, burned in 1846, and was rebuilt rather quickly. It cast sash weights, furnaces, and plow blades for the Howard plow. The plow blades were sent up to Middle Street, where the wooden parts were attached before the completed plow was sold.

The Foundry closed around 1895, and if you look closely you will notice that all the windows are boarded up. This helps date this photograph.

The building was renovated to house the generator powering the Hingham Street Railway and then, after the railway closed, George Kimball repurposed the building as a workshop.

Charles Howard (1791-1860) of Hingham invented the first iron plow capable of cutting the tough sod of the American prairie. This small model was made by his son, Elijah Leavitt Howard (1833-1904), for his own daughter, Anne B. Howard.  Gift of Anne O. Borntraeger and Esther Oldham, Charles Howard’s great-granddaughters, to the HIngham Historical Society.

The Lincoln Chair Returns

IMG_4895

The “Lincoln Chair” has returned to Hingham after a sojourn in the Arts of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tradition holds that this joined armchair, made of red oak with walnut inlays, belonged to Thomas Lincoln “the cooper,” one of Hingham’s original settlers. It was long thought to have been constructed in England, but microanalysis of the wood in the early 2000s revealed that the chair was made in North America. This information makes the chair even more of a rarity than formerly believed, as only about two dozen examples of 17th century New England joined chairs exist.

Of a type often called a “wainscot” chair, the Lincoln Chair has a plank seat and carved panel back. The series of elongated S- and reverse S-curves are thought to have been inspired by classical design.

The chair descended in the Lincoln family until 1914. In 1908, as the Town’s 275thanniversary approached, a national campaign was launched to raise funds for a bell tower in memory of Hingham’s first settlers. When the Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in November 1912, an interior chamber, the “Peter Hobart Room,” was created and furnished with furniture and artifacts from mid-17thcentury England. Hingham’s Lincoln family donated the chair to the Memorial Bell Tower to furnish the Peter Hobart Room.

IMG_4897 (1)The chair was moved into Old Ship Church in 1933 and remained there until 2008, when it was loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts for display with other First Period furniture.

But now, the Lincoln Chair has returned home to Hingham. We are grateful to the Town of Hingham and Hingham’s First Parish for their stewardship of the chair over many years and for their decision to loan the Chair to the Society for display at the Hingham Heritage Museum.

Get out the Vote!

Election day is upon us! We’ve all received numerous mailings and seen countless ads; now it’s time to make our way to the polls to perform our civic duty and receive the iconic (and much desired) “I Voted” sticker. Filling out our individual ballots and sliding them into the ballot box seems routine to us, but this was not the original voting practice of the Commonwealth. A dive into the archives can help us look into the history of voting in Massachusetts and the integral role our state played in establishing our voting practices today.

Pasted on the pages of one of the many bound books in our collection is a series of political ballots from the 1870s and 1880s. You can see these ballots belong to both familiar and unfamiliar parties – from the “Regular Republican Ticket” and the “Regular Democratic Ticket” to the “Liberal Republican Ticket” and the “Regular Greenback Labor Ticket.”

 

Political ballots, or party tickets, were created in the 19th century to make it easier for people to vote. Prior to these ballots, Massachusetts voters had to write down who they wished to elect. This meant voters had to not only remember the names of their desired candidates, but also the spelling of the names to avoid the possibility of the vote being thrown out. While early voters could remember the few names of elected officials within the small colony, as Massachusetts’s state government grew, this task became much more challenging.  Enter David Henshaw.

Henshaw, a Bostonian, decided to take a printed list of 55 candidate names and submit it as his ballot in 1829. For over one hundred years, Massachusetts law had required voters to handwrite their vote, but Henshaw challenged this practice. His act led to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case: Henshaw v. Foster. The Supreme Judicial Court ultimately recognized that the original law did not foresee how large the government would grow and how many candidates voters would have to elect; therefore, the Court determined that printed ballots were acceptable. And so began the mass production of party tickets in Massachusetts, and, soon, the nation.

Party members printed these ballots in newspapers or distributed them on the streets. Party leaders soon realized that by incorporating party symbols, elaborate designs, and vivid colors in their ballots, they could appeal to more voters, both literate and illiterate. Below you can see how parties in Massachusetts sought to visually appeal to voters. You may even notice the names of a few Hinghamites: John D. Long, Charles W.S. Seymour, Arthur Lincoln, and Alexander Lincoln.

 

If politicians disagreed with the candidates chosen to be on their party’s ballot, they sometimes chose to rebel by creating their own party ballot. If there was just one candidate a voter didn’t like on the ballot, the voter could cut out the name of a desired candidate and paste it over the name of the original candidate. You can see on the ballot below that one voter preferred “Henry Stephenson of Hingham”.

 

Over the years, parties found ways to intimidate voters into taking their ballots or stuffed the ballot boxes themselves, resulting in a cry for reform. In 1888, Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation requiring the creation and use of state-issued ballots which listed all candidates of all parties on one ballot, a practice Australia had already used effectively. Massachusetts once again began a voting system that the whole nation would eventually adopt, a system that is currently in practice today.

So as you make your way to the polls, remember how far we’ve come as a state and a nation to ensure our democratic experiment is a success!

To learn more about party tickets and voting, check out these articles/sites referenced:

“19th Century Political Ballots” by the Boston Athenæum http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16057coll29

“Rock, Paper, Scissors: How we used to vote” by Jill Lepore https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/10/13/rock-paper-scissors

“Vote: The Machinery of Democracy – Paper Ballots” by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History http://americanhistory.si.edu/vote/paperballots.html