Wednesday, May 5, 2021

400 Hundredth Column

"Prefers to be outdoors" Winter bicycling at 
below zero temperatures. (click to enlarge)
My first column was submitted November 2, 2009, published in the Beacon-Villager on November 12, 2009. As of May 2021, the count is 400 columns. That’s not including some 40 somewhat revised repeats. The running total is roughly 300,000 words and 350 photographs. The first four columns, all published in 2009, were titled "Stone Walls, Winter Bicycling, A River Runs Through it" and "Robins in Winter." Those were what had been submitted as examples for a column proposed to the editor of the paper, at that time Brian Nanos, to wit, a column to be named "Life Outdoors," with a scope that included Maynard and Stow history, observations on nature, and descriptions of outdoor recreational opportunities. The default byline at the end of each column was "Mark has an indoor job, but prefers to be outdoors." Brian's reply to the proposal was "Yes, but we can't pay you." 

More than eleven years and five editors since this began, the column continues. The editors have been Brian Nanos, Bruce Coulter, Caitlyn Kelleher, Joyce Crane, and – since August 2013 – Holly Camero. All of them have given me free rein to follow my curiosity, as long as most of the time the column topic was relevant to Maynard and/or Stow, and at length between 700 and 800 words, preferably submitted with a photo either of my own or from the collection of the Maynard Historical Society. At times, length has crept up to 1,000 words. The splits by category have been roughly 60 percent history, 20 percent nature, 15 percent recreational (bicycling, kayaking, hiking trails, etc.) and 5 percent health-related topics. The last stem from my science education and pre-retirement career in various health industry jobs. 

Productivity has been between 30 and 40 new columns per year, plus starting with 2014, five repeats per year of previously published columns, lightly reworked. The idea fountain has not yet run dry. There is always an ideas list of 10-15 potential columns, some as-name-only, some researched, and some partially written. Very often, ideas were generated by delving into the archives of the Maynard Historical Society, accessed either online or physically at the MHS collection, by randomly opening boxes of documents and photographs. Reader suggestions are always welcome.

Selling books at Farmers' Market
Many of the columns have had a post-publication life at and in three books: "MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011), Hidden History of Maynard (2014)," and "MAYNARD MASSACHUSETTS: A Brief History (2020)." The last is for sale at 6 Bridges Gallery, and at events scheduled throughout 2021 to celebrate Maynard’s 150th anniversary of its creation on April 19, 1871. For 2021, a selection of columns in the most recent book are the subjects of a monthly lecture series sponsored by the Town of Maynard Sesquicentennial Steering Committee and hosted by the Maynard Public Library. These can be attended as Zoomed talks or viewed later at the library website.  

Looking forward, there is no expectation of running out of ideas. A town does not have to be famous, nor date to the colonial era, to have had an interesting history. Or to keep creating history, especially if one’s definition of history is everything that has occurred up to this morning’s cup of coffee.

Sometimes history comes alive in a wonderful way. Soon after the movie “The Finest Hours” was released in 2016, an acquaintance mentioned that a Maynard resident had been involved. To wit, Edward A. Mason, Jr., Apprentice Seaman, age 23 at the time, was awarded the Silver Life-Saving Medal for his part in a 1952 Coast Guard rescue effort off the Massachusetts coast. When I went to see the movie at the Fine Arts Theatre, I mentioned the connection to staff behind the counter. The reply: “We know. Mason and his daughter were here this afternoon to see the movie.” I got a column out of it, and the Beacon-Villager interviewed Mason.

Lamson carving set
More recently, a column about an antler-handled, carving knife and fork set that had come into our family’s possession in 1961 delved into history about Silas Lamson, the 1834 co-founder of the company, then named Lamson & Goodnow. And then I got a note from a neighbor that she is a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Silas Lamson.

Researching and writing for the Beacon-Villager has had collateral consequences. Information has been contributed to Wikipedia articles about Maynard, Massachusetts, the Assabet River and many other related topics. In May 2018, I was able to host a visit by seven descendants of Amory and Mary Maynard, great-great-grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren, and provide them with a tour of the town, including visits to the homes where Amory and Mary had lived, and inside the family crypt. Some of them were able to return, COVID vaccinated, to attend the April 19, 2021 celebration of the town’s founding, 150 years ago.

Mark had an indoor job (now retired), but prefers to be outdoors.

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