Tuesday, December 29, 2020

No Soup for You

Ingredients - 1
In this pandemic time of no gathering, hope can be sustained by thinking of celebrations that will be restored once enough people have either survived infection with COVID-19 or been vaccinated. Think birthdays, graduations, holidays. Even funerals (there will still be funerals) will become, once again, time when people can congregate, reminisce, remember.  

New Year’s Eve celebrations will be missed this year. While there may be celebratory fireworks, First Night Boston and New York City’s famous illuminated ball drop, these events will be broadcast for viewing in the safety of home rather than being seen in person by tens of thousands of people. Think “Next year, next year, next year!”

New Year’s Day has its own celebratory traditions – things to do so as to bring good luck for the coming year. In Spain, one is supposed to eat twelve grapes at midnight of New Year’s Eve – one at each toll of the clock’s bell. In Japanese households, families eat long noodles at midnight, specifically “Toshikoshi Soba,” or “year-crossing noodle,” being careful to suck in the noodles intact versus biting them into pieces.  Elsewhere in Asia, ‘forward-moving’ foods such as fish are good luck on New Year’s Day, whereas backward moving (lobster, crayfish) and backward foot scratching (chicken, turkey) are to be avoided. Sauerkraut brings good luck in central Europe, lentils in Italy, herring in Scandinavia.

In the southeastern United States, people dine on black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day. Symbolically, there are ‘money’ foods, representing respectively coins, folding money and gold. Another southern New Year’s Day classic is red beans and rice with sausage. The thinking here is these are “poor people’s foods,” so by doing so you are destined to eat better the rest of the year.

From fall 1978 to fall 1980, we lived in Mobile, Alabama. Besides all-the-time hot and humid weather, and living through Hurricane Frederic, we were introduced to some deep south customs. One we brought north with us (New York City, then Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, now Maynard) was to start the New Year with friends, dining on beans and rice. In time, this evolved into a lot of friends, a lot of beans, and a lot of rice. And collard greens with black-eyed peas and salt pork. And ham. The beans became black bean soup, either with ham or vegetarian. The rice became New Orleans-style ‘dirty’ rice, with sausage or vegetarian. The ham became hams. “With friends” became inviting everyone we knew. Our event evolved into a New Year’s Day afternoon open house that sees 100+ people stopping by.

Daniel Mark, helping with New Year's Day cooking, Dec. 2005.
Three simple rules help make the event work: 1) Keep your shoes on; 2) Wear a name tag (helps us know who you are); and 3) Talk to people you don’t know. When we moved to Maynard, September 2000, there was some question as to whether the tradition was portable. The answer? Yes. Confirmed when mid-afternoon of our first Maynard open house, I asked Jeanne “How do we already know 50 people?” The tradition continued, so that January 1, 2020, was our 33rd annual New Year’s Day open house.

Sadly, New Year’s Day, 2021, we will do without. “No Soup for You.” [For those who lack the frame of reference, that was the catchphrase of a character who appeared in a 1995 episode of Seinfeld (a TV comedy).] There was some consideration toward making the soup, dividing it into quart containers, and inviting everyone to stop by to take some home, perhaps from a no-social-contact table by the front steps, but this grew logistically complex. Instead, Next year, next year, next year!!!

Mark thinks that any soup recipe that starts with a quart of olive oil, five pounds of onions, two heads of garlic, four large cans of diced tomatoes, eight pounds of dried black beans and a nine-pound ham cannot go wrong. Or the vegetarian version, with parsnips, celery, mushrooms, etc.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Time Capsules from Centennial (1971)

The 100th anniversary of the creation of Maynard was marked by many celebratory events, including the creation of a wooden box – a “time capsule” – kept at Town Hall, in recent years on display in the glass-fronted case in the upstairs hallway. This one was intended to have been opened with great fanfare on April 19, 2020. The COVID pandemic cancelled the planned celebration. To be rescheduled.

Time capsule box a Town Hall.
Centennial Belles and Brothers
of the Brush put stuff inside.
As to the history of the box and what is inside, a newspaper article in a scrap book created by the Maynard Historical Society provides all the details. The box was constructed by Worsley Fardy, Manual Arts teacher at the high school. On November 29, 1972, records and histories and memorabilia of the Centennial Belles and Brothers of the Brush were placed in the box, as were cards filled out be more than 300 children, writing their names and which school they attended. The Belles and Brothers were groups that had organized many of the centennial’s celebratory events, including an all-you-can-drink beer bash (tickets, $2.50), and an inner tube race on the Assabet River.    

That was not Maynard’s only time capsule. Fowler Junior High School decided to create its own memory- and memorabilia-capturing reliquary by asking students to contribute items they thought would be representative of their time, fifty years later. The event was organized by Social Studies teacher Doug Miller. Ellen Duggan, life-long Maynard resident, active with the Maynard Historical Commission and the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, located a fragment of a newspaper article from 1971 with a description. It has the last part of the list of what 75 students brought: “…72. Watch band, 73. Paint brushes, 74. Tooth paste. 75. Camera.”

The newspaper item ended with: “The above articles were placed in a plastic time capsule and sealed air tight. It was buried on June 22, 1971, in front of the Jr. High School next to the flag pole. The capsule is to be dug up fifty (50) years from the above date.”

In an event exemplifying the spirit of ONLY IN MAYNARD (see column about that topic at maynardlifeoutdoors.com, February 2020), a decision was made to dig up the capsule on Friday, December 11, 2020, i.e., six months and 11 days before the scheduled date. A modest gathering of observers met on the ArtSpace lawn. The man with the shovel was Bill Goddard, who as he put it, “I’m the one who dug the hole back in 1971.” Also present and assisting were Rick Lalli and Ron Melanson, classmates from 1971.

The effort to unearth the time capsule came to naught. Bill remembered it has having been buried about a foot below the surface, in front of the flagpole, meaning the side away from the building. The hole, enlarged and enlarged, did confirm one thing – that the present-day flagpole is not on the exact location of the original flagpole, but rather about 18 inches closer to the building. The dig did find the base of the original flagpole but nothing else.

Doug Miller (left) with Rick Lalli, Bill Goddard
and Ron Melanson (time capsule seekers)
The next step was to ask if anyone else had a different idea as to the location of the buried treasure. Doug Miller – THE TEACHER – was called, arrived, and was of the opinion that the site was halfway between the flagpole (the original) and the sidewalk to the east entrance to the building. A smaller hole dug there failed to unearth the capsule. Doug was, however, able to provide a more detailed description of what was buried, to wit, a plastic garbage can with a lid, painted white and black to resemble a space rocket, and sealed ‘air tight’ by having it inside a plastic bag. Given plastic container and depth, no value it trying to find it with a metal detector.

There was some thought that either the Town or the school administration had a record about the exact site of the 1971 interment. Queries sent. Meanwhile, Bob Cutaia, another student at the time, who had not been able to be present for Friday’s event, voiced a strong opinion that the capsule had been buried BEHIND the flag pole, as in between the flag pole and the building. If close behind, that would put it under the concrete slab that anchors the present-day flagpole. If more toward the building, then perhaps this will all end with a successful recovery of the collection of items the student donated back in 1971.

Update: A second attempt to unearth the time capsule before the big snowstorm failed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Draining the Mill Pond

People walking across the drained frozen mill pond 1916-17.
Trestle and flume visible, left; St. Bridget's spire, right.
One wonders what is on the bottom of the mill pond. No one is allowed to swim in it, or boat on it, so people who own a diver’s face mask, or have the ability to look over the side of a boat on a calm day, cannot fathom what lies on the bottom.

What we do know is that the mill pond is not a ‘kettle pond.’ The most famous kettle pond in Massachusetts is Walden Pond, 65 acres in area and more than 100 feet deep at its deepest. Kettle ponds closer to Maynard, not famous and not as deep, include White Pond (Concord), Crystal Lake, Sudbury (old name “Bottomless Pond”), and possibly White Pond (Hudson), for which Maynard owns water rights, and until 1999, sourced some of its tap water from there.

Toward the end of the last ice age, when the glaciers of ice as much as two miles thick were melting in place there were many instances in which large (LARGE!) blocks of ice remained as a remnant while the ice surrounding it melted, leaving an ice ‘island’ separate from the face of the glacier. As the glacier melted, meltwater would carry sand- and gravel-sized particles to settle around the ice blocks. On occasion, meltwater lakes were contained behind an ice dam, the sudden failure of which would release a vigorous flood of water that would move sizeable rocks.  When the remnant ice blocks finally melted, what remained were open depressions surrounded by deep layers of sand and gravel and rocks. Wherever the groundwater table is high enough, these kettles become permanent ponds, replenished by rain falling on the surrounding sandy plain. Walden Pond has no surface streams flowing into it, nor an exit stream leaving it, yet it persists, with a surface level that averages 158 feet above sea level. It rises or drops several feet above or below that based on previous years’ rainfall and snowmelt.

Maynard’s mill pond and its water level are artifacts of the mill’s construction and management. When Amory Maynard and William Knight came looking for a site for a woolen mill in 1846, they each had mill ownership in the past. They deeply understood water power. Key to the attractiveness of Assabet Village as a potential mill site was the fact that at Rockbottom (not yet renamed Gleasondale), the site of the nearest existing dam upstream, was more than four miles away, so that if they could figure a means to dam the Assabet River to their advantage, they could back up a large enough volume of water for year-round operation without interfering with the operation of the Rockbottom dam.

Where the mill pond is now was originally a swamp; by building a large dam upstream from where there had been a modest dam at Mill Street, and also constructing a canal to where the first mill building was built, they were able to flood the swamp. Lost to unrecorded history (?) is whether a dike or other construction was needed to prevent the newly elevated body of water from finding a route to the river that was not through the mill’s waterwheel. The net result was getting the equivalent of 50 horsepower of ‘free’ power, six days a week, 52 weeks a year. This was enough initially, but by 1862, coal-fired steam engines began to augment, and then finally replace, water power.

Wait, wait, where were we? Considering draining the pond. Which is exactly what was done in 1916-17, when what is now numbered as building #3 was being built. A temporary dam was erected near the Sudbury Road bridge. A wooden pipe, a “flume,” resting on a wooden trestle, conveyed water to the mill for washing the raw wool, providing water for the steam engines, and washing wool again after it was dyed. There are photographs in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society showing the pond drained. In winter, people walked across the ice- and snow-covered bottom. From the photos, an estimate can be made that the refilled pond is no more than 30 feet deep at its deepest.

Trestle visible in 1977 when the mill pond was
partially drained for building repair (photos
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society) 
When construction was completed in 1918 the temporary dam and flume were removed, but the trestle was left in place, partially submerged, in case there was a future need to drain the pond again. In 1977, the pond was partially drained to allow for building repairs. The trestle top was visible and still looking in good shape. At present, the tops of a few remaining wooden piles can be seen breaking the water’s surface when viewed from between buildings #3 and #5. Without knowledge of the original intent, many people assume that these are the remnants of a railroad trestle. Most of the time, the pond’s water level is maintained within a small range.

Could, should, the pond be drained again? There is no real reason to. There is little sediment build-up, because most of the silt carried by the Assabet Rive to the body of water retained by the Ben Smith Dam settles miles upstream from the canal. One hundred years ago, people swam in the pond or skated on the ice. According to town records, some died doing so, but the bottom of the pond is not strewn with bodies. There are rumors that desktop computers and other equipment were defenestrated when Digital Equipment Corporation abandoned the buildings. This has not been confirmed. Unlike the river, the pond was never a dumping place for old tires. Draining it would surely reveal bottles and cans, but nothing that is impacting the quality of the water.

Remnants of trestle (2001)
The pond does not stagnate because it is managed; during times of high river flow, fresh water is allowed in through the canal gatehouse (visible from the Route 117 bridge) and let out via the old mill works tail race, visible from Walnut Street. The water level can drop during summer droughts because no water is allowed to be diverted into the pond when the river flow drops below 39 cubic feet per second. There was a problem the summer of 2017 when the pond would repeatedly fill to almost overflowing into the Main Street parking lot even though the canal gate was closed. Turns out a sunken log had prevented the gate from being completely closed. Scuba divers were hired to remedy the problem.   

Mark envisions an annual kayak day sponsored by Mill & Main, perhaps with a launch fee going to a local charity.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Irish Emigration Driven by Famine

The first wave of Irish immigrants to the New England colonies were Ulster-area Presbyterians fleeing religious discrimination during 1715 to 1750, many of them Scottish-Irish who had previously relocated from Scotland to Northern Ireland for the same reason. Modest emigration was also sparked by the Irish Famine of 1740-41, which, combining severe cold and drought, killed an estimated 13-20 percent of the population. It was referred to as “Bliain an Air,” meaning the Year of Slaughter. During this era and until around 1790, strict Anti-Catholic Laws actually prevented the immigration of Catholics to America. A later famine, 1816, “The Year Without a Summer” (consequence of a super-volcano eruption in the Pacific), again spiked emigration from Ireland, this time both Protestant and Catholic.

Throughout the first half of the 1800s, the population of Ireland was increasing rapidly, from an estimated five million in 1800 to over eight million by 1845. This, despite a constant emigration to England and North America. The latter was more to Canada than the U.S., initially as seasonal labor for the cod fishing industry, but as time went on, permanent.  Even today, Newfoundland is oft-described as “the most Irish place outside of Ireland.”   

And then, the Potato Famine of 1845-1849. Over decades, good land in Ireland had become dedicated to raising cattle for shipment to beef-eating England. Tenant farmers ended up on small acreage, poor-soil farms on which the only crop that could have yields large enough to support families was potatoes. When the fungal blight hit, Ireland starved. A million people, died from starvation and diseases such as cholera, dysentery, scurvy and typhus, even though throughout the interval, beef, ham, mutton, butter and other foodstuffs continued to be shipped to England. In fact, some of the corn and wheat shipped to Ireland was being fed to livestock rather than the relief of human starvation. Earlier famines had been alleviated by banning the export of any foodstuffs, but not this time. Bitterness among the Irish, toward the English, lasted for generations.

One million Catholic Irish left for the United States and Canada. Many died in transit. Sailing ships departing Ireland were overcrowded, food was in short supply, and many of those boarding ship were already weak from starvation and ill from disease. These sail-powered crossings took 40-80 days. The term “coffin ships” became a common pejorative, as an estimated 30 percent died on board – bodies tossed overboard – or died soon after making shore. This was a higher percentage than were dying on slave-carrying ships traveling from Africa to the Americas (slaves had sale value, Irish, none).

For those who survived the crossing, much of the migration was of young women heading toward jobs in factories or as house servants, and of young men heading toward factories or construction jobs, the latter primarily building canals and railroads. One account estimated that between 1820 and 1860 the Irish accounted for one-third of all immigrants to the United States. Once situated, these women and men sent money home to bring over relatives, ensuring a flow of immigration well past the end of the century. Roughly one in five people living in Massachusetts claims Irish ancestry. Worldwide, the Irish Diaspora means that more than ten times as many people claim Irish ancestry as the five million who live in Ireland today.

Locally, with the creation of the woolen mill operation in 1846 by Willian Knight and Amory Maynard, there were new jobs for English, Scottish and Irish immigrants. By 1850, the population of Irish Catholics had surpassed 50; a priest travelled from Saxonville (Framingham) or Marlborough twice a year to conduct Mass. By 1857 the Irish Catholic population was large enough that it was necessary to rent a hall for monthly-held Mass. In 1865, St. Bridget’s Church was built at the site now occupied by Maynard’s police station. The Assabet Manufacturing Company (the woolen mill) donated the land and $500 toward construction. The cemetery was dedicated in 1869. Rev. M. O’Reilly became the first resident pastor in 1871. The cornerstone was laid for a new, larger church on Sudbury street in 1881, construction completed and the present-day St. Bridget’s Church dedicated in 1884 by Archbishop Williams.

Maynard's Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
In some places – apparently not so much Maynard – the Irish faced prejudice because of their Catholic faith. The political American Party, members called “Know-Nothings,” stood by a slogan “Americans must rule America!” Their belief that the United States was a Protestant country under threat by the influx of a Roman Catholic population loyal to the Pope and incompatible with American values, has echoes in today’s anti-Muslim prejudice. Newspaper advertisements read “Help wanted – No Irish Need Apply.” The American Party dominated Massachusetts politics throughout the 1850s. Naturalized citizens were barred from voting unless they had spent 21 years in the United States, and the King James Bible was mandatory daily reading in public schools.

Prejudice faded slowly. Not until John Kennedy’ election in 1960 did a Catholic become President, and even he, in a pre-election speech, felt obligated to say “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.” 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

This Old Knife (and Fork)

Back in September 2011, a column was titled “This Old Spoon.” It started as a riff on looking as brandmarks on some family keepsake spoons in the kitchen odds and ends drawer, then segued to not particularly valuable collectables, such as Indian clubs or ice tongs. The column has been reposted to www.maynardlifeoutdoors.com.

The spark for this week’s column was Thanksgiving, a bird to carve (Cornish game hen for two rather than the traditional turkey for ten), and a close look at a carving knife and fork that have been in the family’s possession since 1961. And not new then, but rather a kitchen drawer find in a purchased Pennsylvania summer cottage. Viewed through a magnifying glass, the knife’s brandmark reads “LAMSON Stainless Steel, Made in USA.” The mark includes an oval with the company’s symbol – a ship’s anchor entwined in rope.   

Silas Lamson, holding scythe handle
The company’s origin dates to 1834, when Silas Lamson (1778-1855) devised a way to mass-produce curved snaths [wooden handles] that greatly improved the ergonomic efficiency of scythes used to harvest hay and wheat. Three years later he partnered with two of his sons, Nathanial and Ebenezer, and his wife’s nephew, Abel Goodnow, to start the manufacturing firm of Lamson and Goodnow, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. They hired skilled metalworkers from cutlery centers in Sheffield, England and Solingen, Germany, and began manufacturing high quality agricultural implements, general-purpose knives and kitchenware, later adding fine tableware to their offerings. Silas died in 1855. Ebenezer had succeeded him as president of the company years earlier.

By the time of the Civil War the company had become one of the largest cutlery manufacturers in the country, employing more than 500 workers to meet demand for its products. The company’s annual purchases exceeded 200 tons of steel. Its catalogs depicted a vast variety of items with ivory, horn, bone or exotic wood handles. In 1869, a dinner set of 62 pieces was gifted to President Ulysses S. Grant, with half of the pieces set in mother-of-pearl handles and half in ivory.

During the post-war westward expansion, L&G knives went to fur trappers, buffalo hide skinners, sheep farmers, cattle ranchers, cowboys and the U.S. Calvary. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs bought thousands and thousands of blades for treaty reparations to western tribes. If someone were to ask what the most common knife found in the hands of a Plains Indian warrior would have been, odds were very high that it was from Lamson & Goodnow.

Lamson logo, 2020
Good times did not last forever. Historical records suggest that by 1890 the Lamson and Goodnow families were no longer involved in the management of the company. No information could be found as to their continuation of ownership. Toward the middle to end of the twentieth century, manufacturing jobs of all sorts fled New England. Competition for high-end kitchen knife manufacture continued to come from Germany and then also from Japan, tableware competition from Korea and China. Lamson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014. A year later, the firm was bought by Longmeadow Capital. The original 18-acre factory complex on the Deerfield River was sold. Production of kitchenware was moved to Westfield, MA. The company (www.lamson.com) retains a factory outlet store in Shelburne Falls.

Lamson antler-handle carving set. Click to enlarge
Our carving set remains undated. An email query to Lamson yielded a quick but not-helpful reply. The company could not even identify when the brandmark changed from Lamson & Goodnow to just Lamson. Perhaps, what with the bankruptcy and relocation much in the way of historical archives were lost. Similar – but not identical – antler-handled sets can be found on Ebay for under $60, so our piece of history does not have a high monetary value. However, its nostalgic value insures it will be passed to the next generation.

There is history, and there is history. Researching “Lamson” as a business unearthed the information incorporated into the text above. But researching “Silas Lamson” as a person yielded an entirely different take on the backstory. Silas “became known as an eccentric for his religious beliefs and personal appearance.” That is an understatement. He was an avid abolitionist and anti-Adventist. He cultivated a long white beard, took to wearing only white clothes, at times white robes, and was passionate to communicate his "firmness of purpose to unveil and ridicule all that he deemed ridiculous in law, custom and religion," preaching his beliefs wherever he could. He often brought a scythe with him when he spoke, causing concern amongst those charged with escorting him away from the podium so that others could speak.  

Silas did not approve of government oversight. He was routinely placed in jail for failing to pay his tithes, and finally, due to his constant preaching, was condemned to the Worchester Lunatic Asylum for several years, until a court decision proclaimed his incarceration as a lunatic was illegal. Released (he said “The angels let him out.”), Silas continued sharing his beliefs with others at every opportunity. Meanwhile, his son Ebenezer, who was only 23 years old when the knife company was founded in 1837, charted its course to its phenomenal success. 

This Old Spoon

New England is rife with old stuff. Stuff was brought here. Stuff was made here. Paul Revere was an accomplished silversmith before becoming a Revolutionary War action figure.

Kitchens are a good place to start an antiques search. Sift past the Ikea merchandise to the tarnished and worn serving spoons. A magnifying glass should make it possible to read makers’ marks on the handles. Our drawer turned up a silver-plated serving spoon with a floral magnolia and daisy pattern up the handle. On the underside is “1847 ROGER BROS AL.” Did this mean the spoon was manufactured in 1847!!? As it turns out, Roger Bros was and still is a well-known manufacturer of flatware. The date in the brand is not date of manufacture, but rather the year Roger Bros invented and patented the process of electro-silverplating flatware. Further research found that the letters at the end of the logo changed from “AL” to “IS” in 1897, so the spoon in question is probably not from 1847, but is at least 114 years old. Valuable? Not so much..

Indian clubs, ranging from 1 to 7 pounds

Attics can be a virtual time machine. With any luck, you might turn up a pair of Indian clubs. To our twenty-first century eyes these all-wood items make us think of juggling clubs or stretched-out bowling pins. But Indian clubs were actually very popular exercise apparatus over one hundred years ago. Men, women and school children used these back in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds. Brand names included Spaulding and Wilson. A pair of clubs, weighing anywhere from one to seven pounds per club, was held one in each hand and waved about in carefully choreographed routines. Imagine a gym’s spin class, but instead of stationary bikes, the leaders and followers are vigorously swinging wooden clubs. Ouch! Ebay auctions find these selling at $30 to $100 per pair. A book, Indian Clubs, by Alice Hoffman, has great pictures.

Garages are also repositories of old. That hand saw, child’s sled, hay fork – how old? The refrigerator era did not start in earnest until after World War II. Prior to that, blocks of ice were cut, stored, shipped and delivered to homes. Ice tongs, blacksmiths’ work, ranged in size from two-handed monsters down to delicate one-handed devices. On-line prices range from $10 to $60.

Obviously, old is not always synonymous with valuable. Sometimes it is just old.  The website www.worthopedia .com is a useful resource, as is Ebay. Learning an item’s history will make it more interesting, regardless. And who knows? Maybe the Indian clubs you find will be imprinted with “S. Kehoe, Maker, New York.” Maybe the bottom of that tarnished silver cup will reveal “Revere.”