Friday, September 24, 2010

More Interesting Epitaphs

In a blog post last month, I explored the many things the epitaphs of Pine Grove Cemetery can teach us about the lives, careers, families and--of course--deaths of those buried there. But there is more to be read into these epitaphs than what they tell us about the deceased--they also tell us about the culture in which they were produced.

One trend visible in these epitaphs indicates the process of the sentimentalization of death which I discussed in an earlier blog post about mourning scenes. The wife of James H. Alexander--who died on February 10, 1866 at the age of 29--had inscribed on her husband's gravestone:

"In memory of my husband
Earth has but one dear spot for me
And that is my husband's arms."

This romantic idea of death can be seen in the epitaph of another man who died in 1866, Algernon Hinkson. Hinkson was actually the widower of Julia Dennison (1826-1848), but he remarried after Julia's death and is buried next to his second wife, Sarah. When Hinkson died on July 15 at the age of 40, his family ordered a stone which reads:

"We have tearfully folded his cold white hands
Lovingly over his breast;
We have kissed the pale lips forevermore dead
And laid him down gently to rest."

In addition to these sentimental epitaphs, there are many traditional religious verses and quotations found on Pine Grove gravestones. For example, Francis Owen's grave (she died on May 21, 1865 at the age of 46) bears the simple epitaph "The Lord is my Shepherd." An interesting parallel can be seen in the use of religious themes in both the home and the graveyard. In his book Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture, Kenneth L. Ames notes that embroidered mottoes/needlepoint and epitaphs had much in common: "These texts echo some of the same sentiments, the same rhythms--and sometimes even the same words--thus linking house and cemetery, life and death, earthly home and heavenly home." (134) An excellent example of this can be found with the grave of Lida Williams Stone Holmes (1842-1897), whose gravestone reads "Simply to thy cross I cling." The same phrase can be found on a needlepoint at the Woolwich Historical Society.

Embroidered motto reading "Simply to thy [cross] I cling." From the Woolwich Historical Society, Woolwich, Maine.

The comparison of human lives as plants is another theme one can see in the epitaphs at Pine Grove, particularly among the young. Addison F. Swett died on January 19, 1847 at the age of 6 years, 6 months. On his tombstone is the epitaph "A lovely flower transplanted to richer sod and warmer climate." This idea of death as God "replanting" a soul from Earth into heaven is not isolated to the epitaph of one Pine Grove youth. Robert S. Skolfield (died October 5, 1872) lived only to be 6 months, 17 days old. His epitaph reads: "A bud snatched from earth, to blossom in heaven." But this idea of "replanting" is no more poetically put than in the epitaph of Sarah Hinkley, who died at the age of 3 years, 8 months, 21 days:

"The dearest rose begins to bloom,
and sheds its fragrance round.
The gardener gently takes it home
To thrive in richer ground."

Ames, Kenneth L. Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
Cheetham, Donald & Mark. Pine Grove Cemetery, Bath Road, Brunswick, Maine, volumes 1 & 2 (Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2006.7.1 & 2006.7.2), 2005.

Special thanks to the Woolwich Historical Society!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Barrett Potter, Laywer & Politican

Reprinted below is the first portion of the obituary of Barrett Potter from the August 26, 1926 issue of The Brunswick Record. I have contributed additional information in brackets throughout.

"Distinguished Attorney Passes Away at Home Thursday Night

"Had Represented Town in Legislature, Served as State Senator, Was Secretary of Bowdoin College Trustees, and Head of Two Banks in Town. Wisdom and Learning Recognized by Prominent Men.

"Hon. Barrett Potter, able attorney, leader in town affairs, a man, whose wisdom and sound judgment has for many years been recognized in business and political circles throughout the State, died at his home on Maine street Thursday night, after a brief illness, following a heart attack. Mr. Potter was born in Readfield April 19, 1857, the son of Rev. Daniel F. Potter. His father was graduated from Bowdoin in ’41. His mother was before her marriage, Miss A.[lvina] A. Cram of Mt. Vernon.

"He is survived by two sisters, Miss Caroline Potter and Miss May Potter, both of Brunswick. [None of the siblings, Barrett included, ever married. They lived together at their 240 Maine Street home, built for them by John Calvin Stevens from 1893-1894.]

Photo of Barrett Potter which was printed with his obituary in the August 26, 1926 issue of The Brunswick Record.

"After graduating from the Brunswick High school Mr. Potter finished preparatory studies at Phillips-Exeter Academy, entered Bowdoin College and was graduated in the class of 1878, receiving his A.B. degree in 1878 and his A.M. degree in 1881. He was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa, was managing editor of the Bowdoin Orient from 1876 to 1877 and the Bugle in 1878; received ex tempore Essay prize in 1877; 1st Essay prize in 1878; was class orator in 1878 and also salutatorian. He was appointed to deliver the English oration at commencement in 1881.

"He was a fine athlete and always took an interest in college sports. He has kept in touch with athletic affairs of his own college as well as of others and had a personal acquaintance with many of the athletic instructors in larger institutions. Mike Murphy, famous trainer of the University of Pennsylvania, was one of his personal friends.

"In the Spring following his graduation Mr. Potter became principal of Calais High school and held that position for three years, from 1879-1882. He was instructor in rhetoric and history at Bowdoin College from 1883 to 1885, at the same time pursuing his study of law with Weston Thompson. He was admitted to the Cumberland bar in 1886 and has since occupied an office in Brunswick.

"Mr. Potter was in the Maine Legislature from 1903-1904; a member of the Senate from 1905-1906; secretary of Board of Trustees and ex-officio Overseer of Bowdoin College from 1894 until his death.

[Barrett Potter was also a member of several Brunswick organizations. In addition to being a member of "The Club", he was also a charter member of the Pejepscot Historical Society, founded in 1888.]

"At the time of his death Mr. Potter was President of the Union National Bank and of the Brunswick Savings Institution.

"Mr. Potter had always been active in advocating the rights of the municipality. He was a notable case for the town in the suit of the Brunswick Gas Light Company vs. The Brunswick Village Corporation. The company alleged the destruction of its pipes in the streets when the sewer was laid. The case went to the Law court twice and the final decision was a victory for Mr. Potter who defended the village corporation.

"In the legislature Mr. Potter was a member of the judiciary committee and made a name for himself there by the able way in which he handled the Brunswick water bill and defended the interests of the town in the Bull Rock bridge matter. He took part in many of the more important measure brought before the House and gained the reputation of being one of the most convincing and forceful debaters in that body.

"While a State Senator the Augusta correspondent of the Lewiston Journal complimented him as follows: ‘Over in the Senate they like to hear Senator Barrett Potter of Brunswick. At once a joy and terror to the hearts of reporters is he, for he is easily the premier of the Senate spell binders. His methods are different from those of all the others. He stands up in his seat, seldom taking a step, usually with his glasses in his right hand and some paper or something like it in his left. Occasionally he varies this by resting the left hand on his desk throughout the entire speech, but this is seldom. Every gesture which he makes is with his right finger and every point appears to be made emphatic by those glasses. Mr. Potter is not a rapid speaker, though he is not slow. But he talks steadily and evenly. His speed is uniform from beginning to end. His voice is full, at the same time pleasant and his enunciation is perfect. It is in this respect that his is the joy of the reporters. There is not an easier speaker to report than Mr. Potter. But there is one thing about him which makes him the terror of these same newspaper men. It is the abundance of figures which he always has at his tongue’s end and which he is constantly using. They are what they dread, for no matter how carefully the speaker may utter them, there is more danger in getting twisted reporting two sets of numbers made in a speech than in handling five hundred words of ordinary matter.’

"At the 3rd annual meeting of the Maine State League of Loan and Building Association held in Augusta, January 22, 1903, Hon. Barrett Potter ably presented a paper on a most important matter regarding ‘The Interest paid Loan and Building Association.’

"On March 15, 1906, he wrote a letter to the Press Agent of the Maine Referendum League giving his reasons for voting against initiative and referendum. This letter was replied to by Senator E.S. Clark who was for the initiative and referendum. Both letters were published at the time. He later made an important speech in regard to the resolve in favor of a referendum. In 1907 he was called to address the committee on education on the University of Maine question as to whether the University should serve the economical needs of the State of not. Mr. Potter believed in the affirmative.

"Mr. Potter was a member of the Brunswick Golf club and was frequently seen on the links. In golf as in all matters of life he exhibited his good sportsmanship. He was a genial, likable companion, and while a man whose natural dignity of bearing tended to make him appear austere, he was found by those who enjoyed his acquaintanceship, to be most sociable and his courtesy was admirable indeed.

"Mr. Potter was always a staunch republican. His religious preferences were those of a Congregationalist and he was a member of the parish of the Congregational church [the First Parish Church].

Barrett Potter's grave in Pine Grove Cemetery, located in the third row from the right.

"The funeral was held from the residence Sunday afternoon, very impressive service being conducted by Chauncey W. Goodrich, D.D., a former pastor of the First Congregational church. Interment was at Pine Grove cemetery. The bearers were Dr. Oscar Davies of Augusta, Hon. Frederick A. Fisher of Lowell, Mass., Hartley C. Baxter, Dr. Charles S.F. Lincoln, Thomas H. Riley, Robert D. Perry, G. Allen Howe and Samuel A. Melcher...[Barrett himself was actually a pallbearer at the funeral of Joshua L. Chamberlain in 1914.]"

Many thanks to Ann Frey, who helped research Barrett Potter for this project.

Cleaveland, Nehemiah. History of Bowdoin College, with Biographical Sketches of its Graduates. Boston: James Ripley Osgood & Company, 1882.
"Death of Honorable Barrett Potter." The Brunswick Record. 26 August 1926.
"The Final Arrangements." Daily Eastern Argus. 27 February 1914. From website "To the Limits of the Soul's Ideal: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's Funeral."
General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine, 1794-1912.
Brunswick: Bowdoin College, 1912.

Historic Preservation Survey of 240 Maine Street. Pejepscot Historical Society.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victorian Women & Death

Looking at the statistics, it is no surprise that during the Victorian* era, women were more associated with death than men. In every single year of the Victorian era in America, the majority of women did not live long enough to see all their children grow up. In fact, it was not until 1920 when more than half of women were able to complete what we now consider a normal life cycle. Thanks primarily to the dangers of childbirth, in 1830 less than a quarter of the women in the U.S. lived long enough to see their children grow up (Green, 166). Women became associated with death not only because it seemed to target them more than men, but also because of their spiritual, emotional and domestic roles in society.

A statue of a mourning woman sits atop the monument to Captain John and Harriet S. Johnson Bishop in Pine Grove Cemetery. This grave is located near the front of the ninth row from the right.

Since colonial America, women have made up the bulk of churchgoers. By the 1870s--though priests and pastors and reverends were all men--women were the ones filling the pews and "engag[ing] in religious introspection" (Corbett, 165). Additionally, religious rhetoric increasingly posed the commercial against the religious. Because men (who held jobs as bankers and businessmen) embodied the commercial, it is no surprise that women, almost by default, became the symbol of religion. Because death was such a religious issue, the more women became associated with religion, they more they became associated with death.

In addition to religion, women were associated with emotions. Women were the major consumers of romantic and emotional literature (Corbett, 165). Because death was, and of course still is, a very emotional experience, women once again were connected to death. This association even affected mourning art. As we have already seen, mourning scenes commonly featured weeping women. In Pine Grove Cemetery, statuary featuring mourning women are among the most striking funerary art found there.

Another statue of a mourning woman in Pine Grove Cemetery. This gorgeous example is at the monument dedicated to the Williams family, located near the end of the ninth row from the right.

Victorian American women were also defined by their domesticity. A stroll through any old cemetery can reveal this. As Katharine T. Corbett points out, the graves of women refer to them as "wife of" and "mother of", whereas their male children and husbands were rarely identified in relation to women, such as "husband of" or "son of". Though the epitaphs of men would praise their business acumen, bravery or accomplishments, those of women focused on their domestic skills, labeling them good, kind mothers and wives.

But how does this female cult of domesticity relate to death? Long before the advent of funeral parlors, death was very much a domestic issue. When a loved one died, their body was cleaned, dressed and prepared by the family. The funeral itself usually took place at home, not in a church or funeral home. For example, after the 1895 death of prominent Brunswick resident Alfred Skolfield (of the Skolfield-Whittier House) the family held his funeral in the formal parlor of their home. It was not until late in the 1800s that the utilization of a funeral parlor became common among the bereaved.

The Woodside family plot, located in Pine Grove Cemetery in the front of the second row from the right.

In her article titled "Called Home: Finding Women's History in Nineteenth-Century Cemeteries", Katharine T. Corbett argues that women's domestic roles extended into death. After all, she points out, what are cemeteries but "cities of the dead", filled with family plots that are arranged like houses upon a street? The Woodside family plot pictured above serves as an excellent example of the similarities between the home and the family cemetery plot. There are "walls" marking the edge of the plot--there are even front steps leading into it, just as there are front steps leading to a home. In both life and death, women found their role to be situated in the home.

*The Victorian era is defined as lasting from 1837 to 1901, when the Queen for whom the era is named ruled England.

Corbett, Katharine T. "Called Home: Finding Women's History in Nineteenth-Century Cemeteries." From Her Past Around Us: Interpreting Sites For Women's History. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.
Green, Harvey. The Light of the Hone: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983.
Pejepscot Historical Society. Skolfield-Whittier House tour manual. 2009.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mary G. Gilman, the Librarian

The woman who would permanently change the Brunswick library was born in town on July 11, 1865 to Charles J. Gilman (1824-1901) and Alice McKeen Dunlap (1827-1905). Mary G. Gilman had a lot to live up to in her parents. Her mother was a granddaughter of Rev. Joseph McKeen, the first president of Bowdoin College, and her father served as a U.S. Representative. Considering all this, it is no surprise that Mary later developed a keen interest and passion for history.

A colored postcard of the Curtis Memorial Library, circa 1925. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1984.45.f.

Mary appears to have been a very bright girl, graduating from Brunswick High School in 1884. After this, she studied to become a librarian under Professor George T. Little at the Bowdoin College Library. At Bowdoin, Mary learned the essentials of librarianship, including cataloging skills. After the first librarian of the Brunswick Public Library, Lyman Smith, decided to move on in 1895, Mary was hired to replace him with a starting salary of $6 per week. Almost immediately, Mary went to work transforming the library into a thriving local resource.

Mary G. Gilman (seated on the right, holding a book) reading to the Wildflower Club, a group of local children. Photograph from Helmreich's A History of the Public Library in Brunswick, Maine.

Among Mary's many innovative ideas for the library were those focused on teachers and children. She encouraged local teachers to utilize the library's resources and even established a separate department within the library for education. For children, she had a completely new room created within the library, which became extremely popular with the local youth.

But Mary Gilman did not stop at teachers and children--she wanted the library to be accessible to all Brunswick residents. She took out books on travel, history and essays and placed them on a librarian's table so visitors would have easy access to them. She also created a "traveling library", where batches of 50 books at a time were sent to outlying areas of Brunswick (like Mere Point). This way, those who could not or did not go into town often had a chance to check out a book. For the same reason, she opened up the library late on Saturdays, so that those who did live far out had plenty of time to get to the library. And responding to the increase in Franco-Americans in the area, Mary also had several hundred books in French purchased for the library.

But Mary Gilman had passions outside of her beloved library. She was a member of the First Parish Church and secretary of the Pejepscot Historical Society. As the "last surviving member of one of the town's oldest families", Mary had a true passion for history ("Miss Gilman, Last of Family, Dies"). Many letters, to and from Gilman, in the collection of the Pejepscot Historical Society attest to this fact. Mary was always eager to research the questions of locals and visitors alike. Louise R. Helmreich's book A History of the Public Library in Brunswick, Maine relates a story about what happened when Gilman heard that a Brunswick High School reading list recommended Gone With The Wind as a historical novel. Gilman apparently thought the book inappropriate for high schoolers, and the book was removed from the reading list after she had "a very definite conversation with the Principal."(Helmreich, 45)

The grave of Mary G. Gilman, located in third row from the right. Gilman died on October 7, 1940 "after a short illness" at her home at 14 Union Street ("Miss Gilman, Last of Family, Dies"). She was 75 years old.

Mary G. Gilman managed the Brunswick Public Library during some of the organization's most important years. During her tenure from 1895 to 1940, she oversaw the library change names from the Brunswick Public Library to Curtis Memorial Library in 1904; personally instituted the Dewey Decimal system in 1936; and watched as her hard work took a one-room library in the town hall building and move it to a building of its own on Pleasant Street. It is not surprising, then, that in her history of the library Louise Helmreich states that "Many individuals through the years had helped to make the Brunswick library a part of the community. None have contributed more to this end than Miss Mary Gilman. She was not only herself a vital part of the library, but she made the library a vital part of the town." (47)

Helmriech, Louise R. A History of the Public Library in Brunswick, Maine. Brunswick: J.G. French & Son, 1976.
"Miss Gilman, Last of Family, Dies." The Brunswick Record. 10 October 1940.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Clockmaker: James Cary, Jr.

Not long after the Revolutionary War, James Cary, Sr. and his wife moved from Boston to Brunswick. There James Cary, Sr. became the town's first gunsmith--a vital role in the young town. He and his wife lived in a house at the corner of Maine and Mason Streets, where their son, James Cary, Jr., was born on July 22, 1790.

James Cary, Jr. photographed at the age of 72 in 1862. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 1726.15.b.

In 1805, when he was just 15 year old, James Jr. served as an apprentice to Robert Eastman in Belfast, Maine. With Eastman, and possibly another clock-maker named Bisbee, Cary learned the trade of making clocks. A year later, Eastman moved to Brunswick and there Cary later became his partner, forming the business Eastman & Cary. Wheeler & Wheeler states that in 1809, when Cary was just 19, he bought out Eastman's share of the business and owned the clock-making enterprise outright. Interestingly, at first Cary ran his Brunswick business out of the same house he was born in, at the corner of Maine and Mason Streets. He remained at this location even after the building burned down in 1853, rebuilding on the site and working there until his death in 1865.

The face of a grandfather clock made by James Cary, now in the collection of the Pejepscot Historical Society (acc# OH 620). Above the number "6" on the dial you can see Cary's signature (click the photo to see a larger image).

On July 16, 1816, Cary married Mary Oakman, from Pittston, Maine. Around 1826 the couple had a house built at 11 Federal Street. Though Mary and James had 3 daughters and 2 sons together, only 2 daughters--Mary Ann & Hannah Elizabeth--survived to adulthood.

Outside of Brunswick, James Cary Jr.'s fame stemmed from one of his students--Aaron L. Dennison. In 1830, Dennison (1812-1895), the son of Col. Andrew Dennison, studied clock-making under Cary and was later extremely successful as a jeweler in Boston. Dennison invented machines to standardize the production of gears and introduced the idea of interchangeable parts to pocket watches, earning him the title "father of American mass-production watch-making."

A pocket watch (right) and accompanying case (left) made by James Cary, Jr. from the Pejepscot Historical Society collection (acc# OH 729). Inside the watch case is James Cary's label--click the image for a larger view.

Cary, however, should not be defined by his role in Aaron Dennison's life. Indeed, Cary was one of Brunswick's most prominent citizens. In business, he never limited himself to clock-making, and also took on the titles gunsmith (like his father), goldsmith and silversmith. Cary even sold medicine out of his shop. He was also very involved in the local community, serving as a member of the local Masonic fraternity and as vice-president of both the Nucleus Club and the Brunswick & Topsham Athenaeum. Cary attended the First Parish Church with his wife and was, like many of his neighbors, at first a Whig and later a Republican.

The grave of James Cary, Jr. in Pine Grove Cemetery, located in the second row from the right.

James Cary, Jr. died in Brunswick on August 25, 1865 at the age of 75. Though his obituary does not list a cause of death, it does state that "for a man of his years, borne down by disease, he was one of the most remarkable we ever knew." Clearly, James Cary left a mark on Brunswick that ran far beyond any of the accomplishments of Aaron Dennison.

Booker, Ira P. "James Cary." Collections of the Pejepscot Historical Society, vol. 1, part 1. Lewiston: Journal Office, 1889.
"Constitution, Rules and Orders, By-Laws and Library regulations of the Nucleus Club." Brunswick: Griffin, 1830. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2009.343.
"Dennison, Aaron Lufkin." National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, Inc. website.
Historic Preservation Survey card for 11 Federal Street. Pejepscot Historical Society.
Morgan, Calvin E. "James Cary Jr." Revised 2007. From the Pejepscot Historical Society collection, acc# 2009.233.
Tenney, A.G. Obituary of James Cary, Jr. Brunswick Telegraph. 1 September 1865.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dr. Edward Beecher Mason

Below is the full obituary of Edward Beecher Mason, D.D., published in the October 4, 1907 issue of The Brunswick Record. In brackets, I have added information about Dr. Mason, who led the First Parish Church from 1890 to 1903.

Undated photograph of Dr. Edward Beecher Mason by Brunswick photographer A.O. Reed. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1979.36.27.

Widely Known, Much Beloved Clergyman, Was Former Pastor of First Parish Church"

"Dr. Edward Beecher Mason, formerly pastor of the First Parish church, died on Tuesday morning at his home on College street in this town, after a long illness. His death was due to a disease of the larynx from which he had suffered for about five years. His voice was impaired to such an extent that he gave up his pastorate and preaching in 1902. During the past year his general health became seriously affected, and last spring he submitted to a surgical operation. This gave him little relief but served to prolong his life through the summer. For many weeks he knew that his life was nearing its end, and although voiceless and weakened by his illness he was sustained by a wonderful courage even to the end.

"Few men have ever lived in Brunswick who were more beloved than Dr. Mason.

"The funeral was held yesterday afternoon, brief services at the home at 2:30 o’clock and another service at the First Parish church at 3:00 o’clock, both being conducted by the pastor, Rev. Herbert A. Jump. During the half hour from 2:30 to 3:00 the church bell was tolled 69 strokes, one for each year of his age.

"In the church, the pastor read portions of Scripture and a part of Browning’s poem, Abt Vogler. Miss Mary Ward at the organ played selections which had been favorites of Dr. Mason, the Pastoral Interlude and Come Unto Me, from Handel’s Messiah, and a Chorale from Bach. The bearers were Prof. William A. Houghton, Prof. Henry Johnson, Prof. George T. Little and Prof. F.E. Woodruff. Ushers were chosen from the deacons of the church.

"Brief services were held at the grave. Interment was in a portion of what has been known as the Abbott lot in Pine Grove cemetery.

"Dr. Mason was born in Cincinnati on March 7, 1838. His father, Timothy B. Mason, was a life-long friend of Dr. Lyman Beecher, having charge of his choir when he lived in Boston and in 1835 accompanied this noted preacher to Cincinnati where Dr. Beecher was president of Lane Seminary. [His mother was Abigail (Hall) Mason.]

"The Mason family, descendants of Robert Mason, a member of John Winthrop’s company who settled the town of Roxbury, Mass., in 1630, is one of the most distinguished in New England.

"Dr. Lowell Mason, whose fame as a composer is widely known, was Dr. Mason’s uncle, and William Mason, the eminent New York pianist, is his cousin. Members of the same family were pioneers in the manufacture of pianos and organ in New England. [Ashby's History of the First Parish Church mentions that Mason and his family had a gift for music: "They had the knack of playing almost every musical instrument. They were particularly interested in singing..."(360) Dr. Mason himself was very interested in hymns, and one of his first projects upon arriving at First Parish Church was to choose and purchase a new hymnal (Ashby, 374-375).]

"Although born in Ohio Dr. Mason was virtually a New Englander. His father and four generations before him were born in the town of Medfield, Mass., and the family still holds property there. A previous ancestor was one of the original landholders in Dedham, Mass.

Undated photograph of the First Parish Church taken from across Maine Street, where Dr. Mason preached from 1890 to 1903. Note that the streets are unpaved. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1993.22.70.836.

"In his career as a clergyman Dr. Mason was a pastor of only five churches, and had he chosen he could have remained a life time in his first pastorate. He was educated at Knox College, Gambia, O.H., and at Farmers College in Cincinnati, graduating from the latter in 1858 with the highest honors. Farmers College is no longer in existence, but its alumni included such men as Murat Halstead and [President] Benjamin Harrison. Three years later, in the summer of 1861, Dr. Mason graduated from Andover Theological Seminary.

"He went from Andover to Ravenna, Ohio, where he remained 12 years. The people of Ravenna became strongly attached to the young pastor, and when he was called by the Fourth Presbyterian church of Indianapolis, the people of the church and town made every effort to retain him. They offered to make a life contract to keep him in Ravenna. The pastors of the Methodist church, the Catholic church, the Disciples church and the Episcopal church signed a note expressing their assurance of high personal esteem and requesting, if consistent with his sense of duty, that he should not separate from them. Two hundred women marched to his house and read a paper protesting against his going away, and a meeting of citizens expressed the same sentiment. Twenty years later they asked him to return.

"Dr. Mason delayed his answer to the call from Indianapolis, but in March, 1873, decided to accept. He had known Garfield in Ravenna, and in Indianapolis, as a member of the literary club, he was associated with such men as Benjamin Harrison and Thomas A. Hendricks.

"In the spring on 1878 Dr. Mason was called to Detroit where he became pastor of the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian church. This was a very large and wealthy church, and greatly interested in philanthropic work and missions.

"Mr. Mason received the degree of D.D., from Miami University while he was in Detroit, it being the result of a commencement address delivered before the student sin the summer of 1881.

"Having remained in Detroit about four years Dr. Mason had a desire to return to New England, and receiving a call from the Congregational church at Arlington, Mass., he accepted that pastorate. There he worked hard for six years, until his health broke down. Among other things he rebuilt the church at Arlington, and it may be mentioned that he wrote a hymn which was sung at the dedication to music which he composed.

"In 1888 on account of shattered health Dr. Mason was given a leave of absence, but seeing little prospect of being able to resume the work at Arlington, he resigned in February 1889. As a member of the Monday club in Boston, Dr. Mason had contributed forty sermons to their published series.

"The call that brought Dr. Mason to Brunswick was extended to him on February 26, 1890. He accepted on April 4, and began his work here on May 4th of that year. At his installation the sermon was preached by Rd. Alexander McKenzie of Cambridge.

"His work in Brunswick during a pastorate of 13 years gave him the same pleasure that he found in Ravenna, and his usefulness and influence here has been far-reaching. In the physical up-building of the First Parish church it will be remembered that he built the chapel, and the room back of the pulpit at a cost of about $6000, and the memorial winds that beautify the walls of the church were put in while he was pastor. Among them is one which bears the inscriptions 'The Sunday School; to Its Founders and Promoters. 1812-1898.'

"Among the most notable addresses he has given are: 'A Memorial to Garfield,' delivered in Detroit; five Lenten addresses before the three Congregational churches in Bangor; and a memorial sermon on Rev. Edward G. Guild, a man greatly beloved in this town, who died Nov. 6, 1899. Dr. Mason is the author of a volume of sermons entitled 'The Ten Laws' published by Anson D.F. Randolph of New York.

The tablet gravestone of Dr. Edward Beecher Mason, who is buried with his wife, Myra, and their daughter, Maud. His grave is located near the end of the second row from the right.

"He was married on July 15, 1863 to Miss Myra Campbell [1838-1916], who is a member of the distinguished family known as the Cherry Valley Campbells of New York. He is survived also by a son, Edward C., who graduated from Harvard and now practices law in Boston; and a daughter, Miss Maud [1868-1962], who lives in Brunswick. [The Masons lived at the home they built in 1903-1904 at 24 College Street (Ashby, 378). According to Ashby, Mason died at his home 5 years to the day after he formally resigned from First Parish Church.]"

Ashby, Thompson Eldridge. A History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. Brunswick: J.H. French and Son, 1969.
"Death of Dr. Edward B. Mason." The Brunswick Record. 4 October 1907.
"Edward Beecher Mason." From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 1737.5 (pamphlet 361).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maine's First Printer: Rev. Benjamin Titcomb

Benjamin Titcomb was born on July 26, 1761 in Portland (which was then Falmouth), Maine. Relatively little is known about his youth. He was the fourth son of Deacon Benjamin and Ann Titcomb and studied at Dummer Academy in Massachusetts.

Detail from the monument of Rev. Benjamin Titcomb in Pine Grove Cemetery, which proclaims him "The first Printer in Maine."

Benjamin's fame came from his desire to see a newspaper printed in Portland. Having served as a printing apprentice in Massachusetts, he began to investigate the feasibility of printing a newspaper of his own and partnered with Thomas B. Wait. On January 1, 1785, at the age of 23, Titcomb printed the Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser. Not only was the first newspaper printed in Maine, it was the first piece of paper printed at the first printing office in the state.

The partnership between Wait and Titcomb dissolved by the next year, but Titcomb continued to work in publishing until 1798. Though he and his wife were Congregationalists, he made a rather interesting career move and began to preach to a new Baptist society group in Portland, becoming ordained in 1801. Some of the first meetings of their group were in Titcomb's own home. After the village Baptist Society was founded in Brunswick in 1803, Titcomb was called here in 1804 as their pastor. Titcomb preached at the Baptist church in Maquoit, and by 1825 there were over 100 members.

Rev. Benjamin Titcomb's home at 63 Federal Street. The house was built for him by Samuel Melcher III in 1806-1807 and cost about $2,000 (about $30,000 today). The house is more famous today as the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe--her husband Calvin and she lived there from 1850 to 1852. During Stowe's time, Benjamin Titcomb's son John was their landlord, and apparently a bad one. Stowe often wrote letters complaining about the poor condition of the home. Photo from the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 2152.3.

Apparently not all of the Baptist Society members agreed, however. In 1828 or 1829 a few of these people opened their own church on Federal Street as a branch of the Baptist church in Bath. Titcomb, who lived at 63 Federal Street, joined (or perhaps, led) them there, retiring at the age of 83. The Federal Street church "disappeared" after his retirement (Herring, 5).

Titcomb's grave in Pine Grove Cemetery, located near the rear of the third row from the right.

According to Wheeler & Wheeler, Titcomb also participated in the formation of Maine as a state separate from Massachusetts at an 1820 convention, beginning the meeting with prayer, and was an original trustee of Waterville College (now Colby College). Titcomb died at his Federal Street home on September 30, 1848 at the age of 87.

Nota bene: Titcomb was married, but I was unable to find any record of his wife's name. She must have been quite a woman--she and her husband had 13 children together.

Cathcart, William. The Baptist Encyclopedia. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883.
Herring, Rev. C.M. Historical Discourse at the Semi-Centennial of the Berean Baptist Church of Brunswick. Brunswick: H.C. Upton, 1890. Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1983.19.11.
"Maine's First Newspaper." Bulletin of the Maine State Library, vol. 4 no. 1. July 1916.
Shipman, William D. The Early Architecture of Bowdoin College and Brunswick, Maine. J.H. French & Son: 1985.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Politician: Robert Pinckney Dunlap

In Robert Pinckney Dunlap, Brunswick could hardly have asked for a more devoted native son. Born in a house on Lincoln Street on August 17, 1794, Dunlap would go on to be the first governor to hail from Brunswick. Dunlap remained involved with his hometown for life, devoting himself to its college, church, fraternal organizations and government.

The second youngest of 9 children, Dunlap came from a prominent Brunswick family--his father John was a town representative at the Massachusetts General Court (Maine was not yet a separate state), and his grandfather--Rev. Robert Dunlap--was the first minister to settle in town. Dunlap was prepared for college by a private tutor in Topsham, and later graduated from Bowdoin College in the class of 1815. He studied law for three years under Benjamin Orr in Brunswick and Ebenezer Morely in Newburyport, Massachusetts before being admitted to the bar in 1818. He returned to Brunswick to practice law.

Portrait of R.P. Dunlap by George Swift (husband of Matilda Dennison Swift), 1895. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 84.

Judging from his resume, Dunlap preferred being a politician to practicing law. Described as "an old-school Democrat", his first elected position was as a member of the Maine House of Representatives in 1821, where he stayed until 1823 (Wheeler & Wheeler, 732). Next, he switched to the Maine Senate, serving from 1824 to 1832, during which time Dunlap served as its president for 4 years. Dunlap was elected in 1833 to serve as Maine's eleventh governor, a position he held for four terms (incidentally, this was the same number of terms Joshua L. Chamberlain served), longer than any other governor besides Albion K. Parris. After he left office in 1838 he took a brief respite from politics, before returning to serve in the United States House of Representatives for 4 years, from 1843 to 1847. Like Joshua L. Chamberlain, he served as Collector of Customs at Portland from 1848-1849. In total, Dunlap served 32 years in public office.

Despite a political career which took him from Augusta to Washington, D.C., Dunlap remained involved with Brunswick. In 1825 he married Lydia Chapman (1793-1868), with whom he had 3 sons and a daughter. The family lived in an impressive house at 27 Federal Street, which was probably built by Samuel Melcher III around 1825 or 1826. After serving as Collector of Customs, Dunlap was Brunswick's postmaster from 1853 to 1857. Dunlap was also involved in Bowdoin College, where he served as an Overseer from 1821 until his death--he spent the last 16 years of his life as the President of the Board.

27 Federal Street, the home of Robert P. Dunlap, circa 1860. This was the only 3-story Federal style home on the street until it burned on June 17, 1999. The site is now a vacant lot. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1989.24.1.

Besides Bowdoin College, Dunlap could also claim involvement in another great Brunswick institution, the First Parish Church. He converted to Congregationalism during the Second Great Awakening, joining the church in July, 1834. There, his family sat in pew #27, a pew which would doubly earn its title as "The Governor's Pew" when the family of Joshua L. Chamberlain later sat there. Near the end of his life, Dunlap served as a church deacon. Dunlap was also a leader of the Freemasons and a member of the American Bible Society. Like many of his fellow Mainers, he supported the temperance movement.

Monument to Robert P. Dunlap, which sits over his grave at the front of the 3rd row from the right. The white panel pictured here is dedicated to his role as a member of the Masonic Fraternity.

Wheeler and Wheeler report that when Robert P. Dunlap died after a week-long illness of typhoid on October 20, 1859, "His burial was accompanied with more ceremony and was more fully attended than that of any other which has ever occurred in town." (733) Four years later, a monument to Dunlap's life was under development. The April 3, 1863 issue of the Brunswick Telegraph reported that famed Portland sculptor Franklin Simmons was in Brunswick "to obtain portraits, photographs, &c., of the late Governor, to aid him in executing the bust, which is to surmount the monument". Below this bust, the monument contains three panels: one about his role with the Masons, one about his political career, and one about his family. Respectively, these panels were paid for by the state's Masons, the state legislature and Dunlap's wife and children. In the end, Dunlap's grave cost $1,000 (about $17,000 today) for the bust alone and about $100 (about $1,700 today) for each panel. Local cemetery expert Barbara Desmarais reports that, ironically, Robert P. Dunlap never wanted a monument, preferring instead a simple gravestone.

Ashby, Thompson Eldridge. A History of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. Brunswick: J.H. French and Son, 1969.
"Dunlap, Robert Pinckney, (1794-1859)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress website.
General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine, 1794-1912.
Brunswick: Bowdoin College, 1912.

"Maine Governor Robert Pinckney Dunlap." National Governor's Association website.
Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder, vol. 4. Portland, Maine: S.M. Watson, 1887.
Shipman, William D. The Early Architecture of Bowdoin College and Brunswick, Maine. J.H. French & Son: 1985.
Tenney, A.G. "Monument to Hon. R.P. Dunlap." Brunswick Telegraph. 3 April 1863.
Tenney, A.G. "The Dunlap Monument." Brunswick Telegraph. 7 August 1863.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Receiving Tomb

Pine Grove Cemetery has one receiving tomb, which sits on Pine Street. A receiving tomb was an important building in any graveyard that was subject to harsh winters. The bodies of those who died in the winter were stored in a receiving tomb, so that they could be buried in the spring when the ground was softer.

Silent City on a Hill, a book about Mount Auburn Cemetery near Boston, notes that receiving tombs had other uses as well. Bodies were stored there for short periods if the grave was not ready, or if a monument or tomb was not complete, or even if the body was to be shipped somewhere else. Storing a body in a receiving tomb had an added perk of preventing the "dead" from being buried alive, if in fact they were not dead. Check out an interesting article about the history of live burial--and the precautions taken to prevent it--here.

The receiving tomb at Pine Grove Cemetery, photographed in 1913 for The Brunswick Record.

The current receiving tomb at Pine Grove Cemetery was completed in late 1912/early 1913. On January 24, 1913, The Brunswick Record printed the following article about the new tomb:

"Handsome Structure Recently Built in Pine Grove Cemetery.
"The new receiving tomb at Pine Grove Cemetery recently completed by the Sanders Construction Co. of this town is probably the first tomb in this part of the country to be built of concrete. The structure was built from the plans drawn by E.E. Sanders. Although the trustees of Pine Grove Cemetery were advised by Massachusetts men not to build of concrete, the results have been so satisfactory that men are coming here from various places in Maine and Massachusetts to examine the new tomb.

"The building replaces the old mound tomb, and is situated in the southeast corner of the cemetery, near the Bath road. The outside dimensions are 18 x 23 feet; extreme height 14 feet. The inside measurements are 16 x 20 feet and its is designed to hold 34 caskets.

"The entire structure is of concrete, including the roof, which is made in one-piece construction, reinforced with steel. The concrete mixture was one part cement, two parts of sand and four parts of crushed granite. The wall, which is thirteen inches thick, embodies the new plan of making the tomb damp proof, the inside being constructed of gypsum tiles, with an inch air space between the concrete wall and the tiling. This plan obviates the dampness of ordinary concrete construction.

"The doors are of steel; the finished portions of the exterior have been rubbed with carborundum brick, and the panels were bush hammered to represent stone work.

"As will be noticed by the accompanying illustration, the architecture is plain Grecian, on the lines of the well-known Greek temple, giving a dignity and harmony that is unusual in such construction.

"The cost of the tomb was about $2500, and the work was done under the direction of a committee composed of E.H. Woodside, I.H. Danforth and J.S. Towne, trustees of Pine Grove Cemetery Association. They had good reason to feel proud of the structure, as it marks an important improvement in the cemetery, and adds beauty and dignity to the grounds.

"Mr. Sanders, head of the E.E. Sanders Construction Co., is receiving many compliments for his work. His company, which has recently been incorporated, makes a specialty of concrete and bridge work, and the plan is to have men of prominence in all branches of engineering included in the corporation."

The receiving tomb at Pine Grove Cemetery as it appears today.

"Handsome Structure Recently Built in Pine Grove Cemetery." The Brunswick Record. 24 January 1913.
Linden, Blanche M. G. Silent City On a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery. Library of American Landscape History, 2007.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dorothy "Aunt Dolly" Giddings

Of the 119 people who had their biographies printed in Wheeler & Wheeler's 1878 book History of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell, Dorothy Giddings has the distinction of being the only woman. What did Dorothy--or "Dolly" as she was usually known--do to leave such an impression on the town?*

Dolly was born in Exeter, New Hampshire in January 1785, the second of the five children of Gen. Nathaniel Giddings (1760-?) and Anna Folsom (1762-1794). Through her mother, Dolly was related to Sarah Ann Folsom, the first wife of Rev. George E. Adams and the adoptive mother of Fanny Chamberlain. It appears that Dolly's father died while she was still young, because she was later sent to live with her grandfather and after that her uncle, Rev. Rowland, a pastor of the First Congregational Church in Exeter. In 1812 at the age of 27, Dolly first came to Brunswick and lived with Captain Richard Toppan, a relative of hers by marriage. For the next three years, she opened a private school and later lived with Bowdoin College President Jesse Appleton and his family. In 1815, Dolly left Brunswick to live with her sister Polly Bailey in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where she continued to teach.

In 1818 Dolly Giddings returned to Maine, but in a most challenging manner. Thanks to funds from an unidentified "Boston gentleman", Dolly decided to open up and teach at a mission near Foxcroft and Brownville, Maine. There, she lived in a crude log cabin without a door, while teaching the youth of the area and even acting as a nurse to the sick, "exert[ing] her skill in the knowledge of disease" (Wheeler & Wheeler, 744). Once, when poverty in the area became overwhelming, Dolly travelled 250 miles on horseback to solicit help from her friends, returning to Foxcroft & Brownville with desperately needed supplies.

The Dr. Alfred Mitchell house, which stands at the corner of Park Row and Green Streets at the site of Dolly Gidding's first store in Brunswick, which she operated with her sister Harriet Boardman. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2008.93.

Dolly was finally torn away from the Maine wilderness when she heard that her sister in Newburyport was dying. Never able to turn away from someone in need of help, in 1824 Dolly went to Massachusetts to be by Polly's side. After this, Dolly moved back to Brunswick with her other married sister, Harriet Boardman, where the two opened up a millinery store on the corner of Green Street and Park Row. About five years later the sisters relocated their store to the corner of Maine and Mason Streets. Eventually, Harriet opened up a store of her own in the Dunlap Block (the same space later occupied by B.G. Dennison) and Dolly moved across the street to the corner of Maine and O'Brien (now Cumberland) Streets. She lived and worked at this location until her death.

Advertisement for a sale at Dolly Gidding's store, dated June 19, 1840. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH.1412.

Wheeler and Wheeler's biography of Dolly describes her Maine & O'Brien Street store: "Her stock was always large and of superior quality, and comprised not only of millinery goods, but almost every conceivable article of feminine apparel. Her counters and shelves were piled promiscuously with all sorts of articles and apparently in the greatest disorder, yet she could always quickly find any desired article, no matter how deeply it might be covered with other things." (588) John Furbish, another contemporary of Dolly's, described her store as a "land mark" (sic). Dolly also spent each of her last 46 years deeply involved with the Sunday School at the First Parish Church. Her renowned kindness and generosity led to her home being a known sanctuary for the poor and the ill.

The gravestone of Dorthy "Dolly" Giddings, located near the back of the sixth row from the right.
Dolly Giddings died on October 31, 1870 at age 85. Prof. Alpheus Spring Packard supplied the eulogy at Dolly's service at the First Parish Church, which was reprinted in her obituary in the Brunswick Telegraph. Packard ended his speech by saying "It needed not these statements to show that one departed friend was a woman of no common mould. Energy, decision, determination, a deep foundation of benevolence, strong individuality of character, were unmistakably revealing themselves in her daily life".

*This question really should be, "What didn't the hundreds of other women who had lived in Brunswick up until 1878 do to not deserve their biographies printed in the book?"
Tenney, A.G. Dorothy Gidding's obituary. Brunswick Telegraph. 11 November 1870.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alexander Thompson & Mourning Scenes

The death of a loved one in 18th and 19th century America had an effect we wouldn't usually expect today: the production of beautiful artwork. One example of unusual mourning art has already been explored in this blog, but today we turn our focus to mourning scenes.

Mourning scenes, or mourning pictures, are an early example of the sentimentalization of mourning, the practice of beautifying death which emerged in the 1800s. Young women, particularly schoolgirls, were instructed in the art of the mourning scene. A mourning scene was typically embroidered and/or painted with watercolors onto silk or linen. During the early and mid-1800s, these materials were quite expensive. Thus, mourning scenes were more commonly found hanging from the walls of upper-class homes.

Alexander Thompson, the subject of a mourning scene in the collection of the Pejepscot Historical Society, was born in Arundel on August 27, 1757. He served in the Revolutionary War for 4 years and 2 months. After marrying Lydia Wildes on April 8, 1784, the couple rode on horseback up the coast to a farm in Topsham. There, Alexander became a prominent member of the community, serving as a selectman for 6 years. In 1794, he was also a founding member of the Baptist Religious Society in Topsham. Alexander and Lydia would have 9 children together before he died on February 23, 1820. Lydia, born in 1764, would go on to live to the impressive age of 93.

Alexander Thompson's grave in Pine Grove Cemetery, located near the front of the fifth row from the right.

After his death, someone--probably one of his daughters--painted a mourning scene in Alexander's honor. Pictured below, it is in many ways an example of a typical mourning scene. In it, two women are depicted next to an urn monument which reads: "Sacred to the memory of Alex Thompson, Feb. 23, 1820. Aged 64. Mindless of love and friendship, cold he lies, deaf and unthinking clay." Behind them, a weeping willow towers over them, alongside an idyllic scene of nature and sprawling countryside.

Mourning scene for Alexander Thompson painted in watercolors on paper. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 101.

Thompson's mourning scene contains three elements common to this type of mourning art. The first is the urn on the pedestal, an image which had long been a symbol of death. Ancient Greeks had used urns to hold the ashes of their dead, and classical images had become quite popular in newly-founded America. The second element is the inclusion of mourners, which were almost always women. In Thompson's mourning scene, the two women depicted both wear Empire gowns in Regency fashion, another reflection of the classical style which was very much in vogue.

Finally, the image includes a weeping willow, whose very name reflects mourning and death. Author Teresa Flanagan points out that though weeping willows were often found in the cemeteries of New England, they were relatively uncommon in the Pejepscot region which included Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell. Despite this, the tree's association with death made them a key element in mourning pictures like Thompson's. Interestingly, willows were often planted in cemeteries because of the large volumes of water they are able to absorb, which prevented the cemetery from flooding. As I wrote about last week, trees like willows have the additional benefit of purifying groundwater near cemeteries.

Another mourning scene from the collection of the Pejepscot Historical Society also contains many of these common elements. This time, the subject of mourning is Sylvia Dean Hall (circa 1768-1794). Sylvia's daughter, Betsy (born 1790 in Norton, Massachusetts), created this mourning scene of ink on silk with embroidery probably around 1807 or 1808 at Mary Blach's school in Providence, Rhode Island. Betsy chose to depict herself, her brother and her father (John Hall, Jr.) at the time of her mother's death, rather than the time the mourning scene was produced. In June 1820, Betsy married Brunswick native Leavitt Taylor Jackson and relocated here, bringing the mourning scene with her.

Mourning scene for Sylvia Dean Hall, by her daughter, Betsy Hall Jackson, ink on silk, circa 1807-1808. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 108.

Just as in the later Thompson mourning scene, the Hall mourning scene depicts an urn on a pedestal, a weeping willow and a peaceful nature scene. The biggest difference between the two images is the inclusion of three figures in the Hall image, and two of them male, rather than the classic weeping female. Betsy Ring, the curator at the Rhode Island Historical Society during the 1980s, believes this to be the only example from Mary Blach's school where three figures are depicted.

Mourning scene lithograph by Nathaniel Currier. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1977.1.6.

Though the materials--silk, paint, linen--to produce mourning scenes (as well as the instruction to do so) were expensive, in time they became accessible to ordinary Americans. Another example from the collection of the Pejepscot Historical Society shows us that mournng scenes did become mass-produced as time went on. Above is a print by Nathaniel Currier (1812-1888), of Currier & Ives fame. The print contains the classic elements of an urn on a pedestal, a mourning woman and a weeping willow. But if you look closely (click the photo for a larger view), you can see that the names of the deceased on the monument has been added in pen. By the end of the 1800s, no longer was artful mourning exclusive to the wealthy. Beautifying death had become a democratic endeavor.

Flanagan, Teresa M. Mourning on the Pejepscot. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1992.
Green, Harvey. The Light of the Home: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
"Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee: Needlework in the Education of Rhode Island Women, 1730-1830." Exhibit of the Rhode Island Historical Society, 1983-1984.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Businesswoman: Narcissa Stone

Narcissa Stone, one of the most influential women ever to live in Brunswick, was born there in August 1801. The eldest of the ten children (3 boys and 7 girls) of Nancy Hinkley (1785-1828) and Captain Daniel Stone (1772-1825), Narcissa was very much her father's daughter.

Captain Daniel Stone, as his title would imply, was once a sailor, but eventually gave up the life on the sea and opened a store in Brunswick. He became a prominent businessman and local figure and bought up much land in the area. When Narcissa was 4, her father moved the family from the house when she had been born (on the corner of Maine and Mason Streets) to the home where Narcissa would spend the rest of her life on Water Street--now the Captain Daniel Stone Inn. Appropriately enough, the Water Street home stood near the site where the town's first settler, Thomas Purchase, had built his own home in 1628.

Narcissa Stone's home at 10 Water Street, pictured here circa 1920. Narcissa lived here from the age of 4 until her death. The house is now part of the Captain Daniel Stone Inn. From Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH.1898.a.

Narcissa spend her youth helping her father in his store, learning the "basics of business" that became key to her later success (Kanes, 199). She was also formally educated, unlike the vast majority of women of her day. Capt. Daniel died in 1825, followed by his wife Nancy in 1828, leaving Narcissa not only in charge of her father's store and real estate, but also of all her younger siblings--the youngest of whom was just 6 when they became orphans. She ran the store for several years until the estate was settled, and branched out into many other business ventures. As her obituary puts it, Narcissa's business acumen "would have led one to believe that she was brought up in the counting-house of some extensive merchant or banker instead of the family circle."

While still in her twenties, Narcissa became a real estate developer, buying and--after as one contemporary of hers put it "considerably improv[ing]" it--selling much property in Brunswick and the surrounding areas. In 1851, for example, she sold the town a plot of land at the corner of Federal and Green streets for $1,000, on which the town built the first Brunswick high school. She later branched out to manufacturing. In 1834 Narcissa, along with a group of prominent men in town (Robert Pinckney Dunlap, John C. Humphreys, David Dunlap, Joseph McKeen, James McKeen and Dr. Isaac Lincoln) founded the Brunswick Company which manufactured cotton, wool, iron and steel. She converted a horse stable into a steam mill to produce lumber and grind grain and built many dams to provide power to her manufacturing interests.

The first Brunswick High School, which stood at the corner of Green and Federal Streets. The town purchased the land from Narcissa Stone in 1851 for $1,000. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2119.c.

Narcissa was no miser, however. Her considerable wealth--at the time of her death she was reportedly worth $60,000 (approximately $1.1 million today)--allowed her to donate money to many local churches. Though she was a Baptist, she also donated money to St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Narcissa's obituary even reports that she helped fund the education of an African-American man in Raleigh, North Carolina. Narcissa--"a persistent reader"--was renown for her intelligence and took a particular interest in natural history, collecting interesting specimens and displaying them in a cabinet in her home. Professor Parker Cleaveland was a friend of hers, as was Prof. Alpheus Spring Packard, who had known when she was young.

The Stone family monument in Pine Grove Cemetery, where Narcissa, her parents and siblings are buried.

Six days after what was probably a stroke paralyzed here, Narcissa Stone died on November 18, 1877. Never having married, the only member of Narcissa's family to outlive her was her younger brother, Daniel H. At the time of her death at age 76 she was one of the oldest people in Brunswick and her obituary reported that hers "was one of the largest private funerals we ever attended in this village." "[A] more intelligent and clear-headed woman" Narcissa's obituary reads, "never lived."

Footstone marking Narcissa's grave in the Stone family plot. Narcissa is buried in the fourth row from the right--see this map from the Brunswick Women's History Trail website.

Click here to see the only known photograph of Narcissa Stone, from the collection of the Portland Museum of Art. Narcissa was a relative of the McLellan (sometimes spelled McClellan) family, whose home became part of the museum.

Furbish, John. Facts About Brunswick, Maine. Curtis Memorial Library website.
Greenspan, Ezra. George Palmer Putnam: Representative American Publisher. State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.
Kanes, Candace A. "Revisiting Main Street: Uncovering Women Entrepreneurs." Her Past Around Us: Interpreting Sites of Women's History. Polly Welts Kaufman & Katharine T. Corbett, eds. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.
Tenney, A.G. "Paralysis." Brunswick Telegraph. 16 November 1877.
Tenney, A.G. "Miss Narcissa Stone." Brunswick Telegraph. 23 November 1877.
Property deeds relating to land at the corner of Federal & Green Streets, Brunswick. Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 2008.276, 2008.291 & 2008.292.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cemeteries & Public Health

What may seem like a silly question has actually been a matter of debate for at least a hundred years: can a cemetery kill you?

The issue revolves around concerns of public health and water contamination caused by cemeteries. In the crowded church and graveyards of Europe it became a particular concern, as early as the 1800s, but America has not been immune to the debate. In her famous book The American Way of Death Revisited, Jessica Mitford concludes that while the decomposing bodies of those who died "from typhoid, cholera, plague, and other enteric infections" could pose a danger to local drinking water, "the body of a person who has died of a noncommunicable illness, such as heart disease or cancer, presents no hazard whatsoever" (57).

American funeral directors have long advertised embalming as a way to prevent the spread of disease, an argument with which Mitford clearly disagrees. Interesting, at least one study seems to point to the dangers of embalming to public health. In their paper "Old Cemeteries, Arsenic, and Health Safety", John L. Konefes and Michael K. McGee describe the early history of embalming in America. Gaining popularity during the Civil War as a way to ship dead soldiers home, embalming preserved a body for travel. As Knoefes and McGee explain, many of the embalming solutions used from the Civil War in the 1860s until 1910 contained arsenic "because it effectively killed or halted the microorganisms responsible for decomposition" (15). According to their findings, water sources near cemeteries in use during this time period have occasionally been found to have elevated levels of arsenic.

Despite the findings of Konefes and McGee, the primary health concern related to cemeteries continues to be disease. Unfortunately, there is conflicting information on the subject. Though some bacteria can survive in soil for hundreds of years, the World Health Organization notes that there have been no clear cases of epidemics caused by cemetery seepage into groundwater. A British study found that bacteria from a cemetery's corpses were finding their way into the groundwater at the cemetery, but concluded that it was "unlikely the contamination would spread far from the cemetery before being rendered harmless."

Pine Grove Cemetery was not immune to concerns about the health of residents near or visiting the cemetery. In the 1860s, the Brunswick Telegraph reported that some Brunswick citizens were troubled by the number of the trees surrounding the cemetery. The trees shaded the cemetery, preventing the land from drying out and posing a health hazard, they argued. Interestingly, the World Health Organization recommends just the opposite to prevent the spread of disease: deep-rooted trees near and in cemeteries suck up contaminated ground water, purifying it. Twenty years later, the newspaper remained wary about the issue. In April 1886, the Brunswick Telegraph advised: "Let us give again, as we have given before several times, a hint not to drink the water from the pump which stands under the arbor [at Pine Grove Cemetery]. That water is simply saturated with poison from the decay of the bodies deposited in the ground." (emphasis in original)

Calhoun, Charles C. A Small College in Maine: Two Hundred Years of Bowdoin. Brunswick: Bowdoin College, 1993.
"Cemetery." Brunswick Telegraph. 2 April 1886.
Gregory, David. "Water Tainted by Corpse Bacteria." BBC News website, 10 August 2001.
Knoefes, John L. & Michael K. McGee. "Old Cemeteries, Arsenic, and Health Safety."Cultural Resource Management (National Park Service), v. 9 no. 10, pages 15-18.
Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Death Revisited. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
Ucisik, Ahmet S. & Philip Rushbrook. "The Impact of Cemeteries on the Environment and Public Health: An Introductory Briefing." World Health Organization, 1998.

Benjamin G. Dennison, the Shop Keep

Benjamin Griffin Dennison was born to Colonel Andrew Dennison and Lydia Lufkin in Freeport on August 23, 1814. He was the second-oldest son in the family of 10 children, and the fourth born. Unlike his father, younger brother E.W., and younger sisters Julia and Matilda, B.G. (as he was known) decided not to become involved in the family box business. Rather, B.G. tried many different careers.

Photo of Benjamin Griffin Dennison, prominent Brunswick citizen.
From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 1726.32.f.

The first reference to what B.G. did for a living comes from Wheeler & Wheeler. They write that B.G. operated a bookbindery "from about 1833 until 1855, when he sold out to H.J.L. Stanwood" (579). During that time, on October 8, 1838, B.G. married Susan Towns. The couple had two children, Susan Jane (born 1841) and Benjamin Lithgow (born 1843). B.G.'s son would later follow in his father's footsteps and pursue many of the same career paths.

We next find B.G. in 1859 as an officer in the Brunswick Gas-Light Company, a local utility which existed before electricity and provided light for homes and streets. Many of the old buildings in town, such as the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum and the Skolfield-Whittier House, still bear the evidence of these gas lights, including gas fixtures rewired for electricity. On April 8, 1861, B.G. took on yet another job, this time as postmaster. Appointed to the position by President Lincoln, B.G. delivered local mail for about 6 years. According to his obituary, B.G.'s political views prevented him from working during the Andrew Johnson administration, and "he was removed from his office."

B.G.'s stationary store in the Dunlap Block on Maine Street in Brunswick, pictured in the background on the right side (the name of the store is barely visible on the awning) as a minstrel show passes by. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# OH 1542.5.h.

Finally, in 1868, B.G. settled into a more permanent career. He opened a stationary store on the first floor of the Dunlap Block on the corner of Maine and Dunlap Streets in Brunswick. Not incidentally, the second floor of the building served as a factory of the Dennison Manufacturing Company, run by B.G.'s siblings Matilda and E.W. B.G.'s store was a five-and-dime and bookstore, but primarily specialized in fine paper goods like wrapping paper and later sold many photos of the area. The store even operated a circulating library, as it preceded the local public library. In 1887, B.G. passed control of the store over to his son, B.L., and appears to have retired.

Advertisement for B.G. Dennison's store printed on the back of a stereograph sold there. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1982.95.6.

Like his father and sister Matilda, B.G. was a devoted member of the Mason Street Universalist Church. He was also a member of the Mozart Society, a Brunswick/Topsham group dedicated to "the cultivation of musical tastes intercourse" (Wheeler & Wheeler, 246) and the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Before the rise of the Republican party, B.G. was a staunch supporter of anti-slavery. In 1852, he campaigned for Free Soil party candidates John Parker Hale and George Washington Julian in the presidential election (the Free Soil party was a precursor to the Republican party--both held strong anti-slavery views). Fun fact! John Parker Hale's daughter, Lucy Lambert Hale, was engaged to John Wilkes Booth. When Booth was killed in a shoot-out after Lincoln's assassination, a photo of Lucy was found on his body.

B.G. Dennison died on April 19, 1897 at the age of 83. Though his obituary does not mention his cause of death, it does laud the man as "a gentleman of affable and social disposition, a kind husband, an indulgent father, and having lived a correct life, is mourned by many."

B.G. Dennison's grave, located under the tree in the second row from the right.

Leading Business Men of Lewiston, Augusta, and Vicinity. Boston: Mercantile Publishing Company, 1889.
Obituary of Benjamin G. Dennison. Brunswick Telegraph. 23 April 1897.
Rogers, Grace M. The Dennison Family of North Yarmouth and Freeport, Maine. Exeter, NH: 1906.
Wheeler, George Augustus & Henry Warren. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1878.