In the spring of 2008 I was asked by the editor of the Danvers Herald if I would be willing to write about some of the collections within the Danvers Archival Center. Thus began occasional vignette articles with an accompanying illustration spotlighting some of the donations to the Danvers Archival Center and archive purchases that reflect some aspect of Danvers history.
The Danvers Archival Center was established in 1972 as a department of the Peabody Institute Library. Its mission is to collect, preserve and make available to researchers two-dimensional items on paper relating to the history and development of Danvers. The Archival Center collections include valuable and historically important materials that directly relate to our local, regional and national history, as well as simple, ephemeral items that reflect some phase of local culture, and eras now past. The following articles tell the story of some of the more recent Archive acquisitions, as well as some of our older, historically significant treasures.
Richard B. Trask
Danvers Square in the post-World War 1940s and early 50s was the location for many community gatherings. The Danvers Chamber of Commerce, the Danvers Council of Churches, and later the Danvers Jaycees held a variety of seasonal events here including this summer extravaganza set up in the middle of a wide expanse of Maple Street, as it merged into a narrower High Street seen in the distance as it travels in the direction of Salem.
A Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and temporary booths are laid out in the middle of the street teeming with locals. Later, in December, Santa Claus would arrive here as he rode in on a Danvers Fire truck and greeted hordes of local kids. The tall flagpole with our national colors was a prominent downtown feature dating from the 1860s, while the parking spaces in front of Ropes Drugs (second pitched roof at right) were the location of a national news story when a Brinks Armed Truck was robbed of $681,700 in 1952.
In the foreground of the photo one can discern the remnants of the old iron trolley tracks of an earlier transportation generation.
America was on the move, the baby boom was in full swing, and life was good.
For decades now I have believed that one of the most significant and sacred civil holidays we commemorate in Massachusetts is the annual April observance of Patriots’ Day. Patriots’ Day is a state holiday in both Massachusetts and Maine, which until 1820 was part of Massachusetts, and is observed on the Monday closest to the historic date of April 19. This year Patriots’ Day falls on the actual date and will be the 235th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution which occurred on April 19, 1775. Like most of our national or regional civil and religious holidays, our modern society and economy now dictates that this holiday will be virtually overlooked in the bustle of everyday life. For most citizens in Massachusetts the day will have little feeling of a special day of reflection or honor, simply because our society chooses to multi-task life and has little time to slow down and remember. More’s the pity, as so many of our holidays are no different from regular workdays and not able to be observed by the majority of our population. Even for those who have the day off, the holiday is often at best a day to catch up on everyday errands.
Patriots’ Day also gets pushed into further obscurity by another event which was originally created to help commemorate the day, but in modern times has virtually hijacked the meaning of the day – The Boston Marathon. The media hypes this patriotic state holiday into what is now typically referred to as “Marathon Monday.” Don’t get me wrong, such an athletic event spotlighting Massachusetts and athleticism is a good thing, both socially and economically. It just makes me a bit sad and at the same time peeved that an adjunct commemorative event seems to be the focal point of the holiday and allows so many to misunderstand what the day is really about. This holiday is about Massachusetts residents who generations ago were willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve the liberty they possessed against those who wanted to subjugate them. As 91-year-old Danvers veteran Levi Preston, who as a 19-year-old kid marched with over 300 other Danversites, would later explain to an enquiring journalist that the reason he had shouldered his musket and left tranquil Danvers to march over 15 miles and into harm’s way was this: “We had always been free and we meant to be free always!” Seven young men from Danvers were killed by musket balls, bayonets and swords which violently pierced their bodies on April 19, 1775 in their attempt to keep their freedoms.
And while it’s good to live our 21st century daily lives, it’s also appropriate to occasionally pause and recall that among our holidays, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, and Martin Luther King Day were essentially established to remember the sacrifices of so many Americans who came before us and who sacrificed for a better future for us all.
This month I am not going to spotlight an acquisition newly acquired by the Danvers Archival Center, but rather will illustrate a seemingly unremarkable scrap of paper preserved by happenstance for hundreds of years among the records of the Town of Danvers. One can only understand its subject matter and approximate date by performing some detective work.
The item illustrated is a piece of handmade paper partially torn and roughly measuring 7″ x 6½ “. On the reverse side and in iron gall ink put to paper by a quill pen are the words “Minutes from Capt. Epes.” On the obverse of the paper is in column form the names of 14 men next to which is listed an accoutrement of war including “bayonet,” “gun” and “powder.” A careful examination of the men’s names reveals what this scrap of paper was about.
Samuel Epes was a Danvers gentleman farmer born in 1747 and married in 1771 to Mrs. Mary Frost. Epes served as Captain to one of 3 militia companies belonging to Danvers just prior to the American Revolution. In the top 10% of the wealthiest Danversites, Epes lived in the South Parish, which in the 19th century became Peabody, Massachusetts. From an examination of the names on this list we can discover that it was drawn up sometime prior to April 19, 1775. It is a listing put together sometime between February and April 1775 of what military equipment each of these 14 men needed in preparation for possible conflict with the Mother Country of Great Britain. That the paper was produced prior to April 19, 1775, is evident as the name “Saml. Cook, Jr.” is the eighth on the list. Cook, at 33 year of age, was one of the seven Danvers men who were killed on April 19, 1775, while fighting near the Jason Russell home in Menotony, now Arlington, Massachusetts, during the British retreat back to Boston from Concord.
Of the 14 men on this list, one did not participate in the so-called Lexington Alarm, perhaps being sick or out of town the day of the battle. John Southwick 4th, who on the list was in need of a bayonet, was the 25-year-old brother of George Southwick who was another casualty of the battle. George’s head was cut almost in half by the blow of a British soldier’s sword near the entrance of the Russell home. While most of the 14 men listed here were from Epe’s militia company or a break-off minuteman company organized by Gideon Foster days before the engagement, the two at the end of the list were members of other companies. The last man on the list, Benjamin Shaw, was a 31-year-old bricklayer who was a private in Captain Israel Hutchinson’s Minute Company. Hutchinson’s Danversport and Beverly men apparently rode horses to the battle, as Shaw reported that he had lost in the firefight his “horse, saddle, bridle and coate.”
The accompanying illustration showing black coffins with names above each box represent the seven young Danvers men, including Cook, who were killed in battle. This morbid but powerful woodcut is taken from a contemporary 1775 broadside printed in Salem to inform the public of the battle and the sacrifice of their countrymen.
So this old, seemingly unimpressive scrap of paper found among other Town of Danvers manuscripts tells those who carefully examine it of armed preparation, conflict and death that were part of Danvers 235 years ago. It quietly whispers to us that at times liberty must be preserved at a very dear price.
Some people think the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee is steep, but back in 1952 the cost of having three cups of coffee in Danvers had to be a world record!
I never know from what source a new item will show up for our Danvers Archival Center collection. Several weeks ago I was able to snag two pictures for our collection while at home looking on the web for myself on the popular electronic auction site eBay for photos relating to the President Kennedy assassination. Among a large collection of wire service black & white photos offered from the files of the now defunct Chicago Daily News was a group of photos purportedly about the famous January 17, 1950, Brinks Company robbery in Boston’s North End. Among the photos offered for auction were what I recognized to be two images that weren’t of the infamous $1 Million “Brinks Job” in Boston, but rather mis-identified “telephotos” sent out by United Press in March 1952 picturing a thievery much closer to home.
It was 58 years ago this March 25 that the largest cash larceny up to that time in the nation’s history took place in plain sight right down on Maple Street in Danvers Square. That morning a three-man-crew of the U.S. Trucking Corporation armored truck #512 had left the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston with over $1 million. They had been on this regular “laundry-run” route of dropping off cash and picking up bags of dirty and worn bills for possible destruction many times before. The green colored Mack armored truck had already been on the road for over three hours making stops at nine banks, the last being the First National Bank in Danvers at 17 Maple Street on the corner of Maple Street and Central Avenue (Sovereign Bank in 2010).
After the visit at this Danvers bank, driver Dennis Walsh pulled a U-turn in the Square and parked the bulky vehicle in the diagonal space next to a fire hydrant in front of Ropes Drug Company at 24 Maple Street. The three guards alighted the truck through the vehicle’s only entry door located on the passenger side. They locked the door and as they had done a number of times before, made their way to the soda fountain of the popular drugstore for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. Though the guards had a partial view of their truck, not a soul inside the drugstore noticed as a black Buick Sedan sidled up double parking perpendicular to the rear of the truck. Three men quickly exited the sedan, gained entry to the side door of the truck and were then able to unbolt its rear double doors only accessible from the interior of the truck. In what is described as having taken less than three minutes, at about 10:25 a.m. the heisters transferred numerous bags of bills amounting to $681,700 into their car, ignoring the heavy bags of coins.
About half a block up the street, Danvers Police Officer Edmund J. Noonan noticed the Buick double parked and began walking down to confront this parking violation. Just as he approached, the Buick screeched away turning quickly right from Maple onto Elm Street and beyond. Noonan was forced to jump out of the way of the vehicle as it rushed towards him. He caught a glimpse of the driver, blew his whistle, scribbled down the first three digits of the vehicle’s license plate and then noticed the open rear doors of the armored truck. Within seconds there was intense commotion inside and outside the drugstore, as the guards discovered their loss. Within hours, Danvers Police Chief Raymond F. Kirwin and his department were investigating this monumental larceny, along with fast appearing State Police and eventually a group of 27 FBI agents. The center of the investigation swirled about the new brick Danvers Police Station at 135 Maple Street located just behind the Central Fire Station. (The 1951 Police Station was replaced in 1977 by the Ash Street headquarters, the old building partially incorporated into what is now the Middleton Police Station on Route 114. Our new Fire Station is now located on High Street, the old station now operated by Lyons Ambulance Service). The local incident became national news for days and wire service representatives converged into Danvers sending text and photos of local scenes to newscasters across the country.
Officials from U.S. Trucking, the FBI and police interviewed the truck crew. Had they not locked the door? Were they involved? Had a “midget” hidden inside the truck? The stolen Buick get-away car was recovered in Everett, Mass., but the loot and perpetrators were nowhere in sight. It was finally discovered that at the Brink’s garage in Boston, the same place where the heist of 1950 had occurred and where the armored vehicles belonging to the U.S. Trucking Corp. were housed, individual keys to the truck doors were kept in an unlocked drawer in a desk near the street entrance. It appeared that the perpetrators had previously cased the location, stolen a key and had trailed the truck the day of the larceny.
Some twenty months later, on Thanksgiving Eve 1953, the FBI made an arrest in the case. George D. O’Brien, Sr., 43, of Wollaston, Mass. was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury, along with his wife and son George, Jr. on charges of receiving part of the cash from the theft. O’Brien was a small time gangster in trouble since a youth and at about the time of the robbery came into sudden wealth. Cash seized from him included $438 in bills traceable to the Danvers heist. O’Brien was placed on trial in the spring of 1954 with the trial jury bussed to Danvers to walk and examine the scene of the crime on Maple Street.
Following the trial in Boston Federal District Court, O’Brien was acquitted by an all male jury, with Judge George C. Sweeny expressing disagreement with their verdict. Then on June 17, 1954, O’Brien was found fatally shot in his car with a bullet in his head, the mysterious death being ruled suicide.
The year 1952 was certainly a busy one for Danvers, for besides the nationally known armored car heist, in July the town celebrated its 200th anniversary in one of the biggest bashes in its history. In the massive parade celebrated on July 5, 1952, one of the most popular vehicles in the procession was a paneled truck made to look like an armored truck and marked “Blinks Armed Express.” Scores of Danvers kids would run up to the trucks to “appropriate” candy from the wide open rear door.
One of the two 1952 wire service photos obtained by me for less than $10 each and pictured here shows the Mack Armored Car #512 impounded behind the Danvers Fire Station with Danvers Police Officer Leonard M. Szypko standing guard. The second photograph is from a group of copy prints given the Archival Center by Chief Kirwin’s daughters Grace and Barbara in 2004. It depicts the April 1954 scene in Danvers Square during which the Federal jury visited the crime scene during the trial of George O’Brien. The armored truck has been placed at its original location on the left side of the street in front of what was Ropes Drug Store, by then renamed Lloyd’s Pharmacy.
And what became of all that money and the three audacious criminals is still an open question!
It seemed appropriate this month to feature two photographs recently acquired by the Danvers Archival Center through former Selectman and current Finance Committee member David P. McKenna. The photos are views of our own Town Hall seen at two points in the past when the building looked somewhat different from its appearance today.
By the end of this month the grand old Town Hall building on Sylvan Street will reopen for public business. Following months of intensive exterior renovation, modern mechanical updating and refurbishing of the building’s interior, the town will have a safe, comfortable and upgraded facility for use by staff and the public alike. For those of us who have followed this project, it’s a tribute to the caliber of town employees and volunteers who have worked on it as to how well the task has been accomplished. And a tip of the hat to our Fire Department which lent its own expertise during a scary, hard-to-get-to fire of September 8, 2009, which caused damage to the roof and west side of the building, but only temporarily slowed down progress at the site.
Back in 2008 I was asked to serve on a committee to choose an architect for this building rehab project. I saw first-hand the professional attitude and skill by which the town approached the matter. Wayne Marquis, Diane Norris, David Lane, Robert Levasseur, Richard Maloney and many others lent their individual expertise to accomplish this difficult renovation and the physical moving of the entire town hall operations with minimum confusion and optimum consideration of the citizens of Danvers. Project manager Paul McGonagle and Gienapp Design Associates, architects for the project, and general contractor North Eastern Interiors have done well for the town. Although my expertise can’t tell how successful the new mechanical systems will work, or if the refurbishing of the interior will satisfy all, I can attest that the attention to detail on the exterior renovation and restoration is a joy to behold. It replicates the visual impact of the building’s 1899 exterior finish, restores an appropriate balustrade on the roof, keeps the grand look of the 19th century windows on the main façade, restores a clean looking foundation and reintroduces an exterior color scheme appropriate to the period.
This project will be only the latest in a line of successful renovations of town buildings in recent years, including several schools and the Peabody Institute Library. This latest project matches in care the fine and careful detailing of the Conant Street façade of our beloved 1920s & 1930s Holten-Richmond School. That successful project allowed for retention of an important façade while adding new, complementary space to facilitate the educational needs and environmental concerns of a new century.
Danvers Town Hall is the oldest of our municipal structures. It was built in 1855 virtually by mandate of the state, functioning as the local high school and town offices and referred to as the Danvers Town House. Cost for the land and building was $11,148, with the structure designed by Emerton & Foster in the Greek Revival style and built by Benjamin Moore. It was described as an “elegant and ornamental building” rectangular in shape and of two and one half stories. The exterior featured a closed pediment, cupola, simulated ashlar blocks and flush boards on the façade, and recessed pilaster corner boards. The exterior was painted in contrasting colors. During the recent exterior renovation the original corner boards were exposed to reveal the original color pattern. The body of the building was painted yellow with the trim a dark, almost black, grey! I took photos of these details for our archive records.
This 1855 Town House saw service during anti-slavery gatherings, was the location of the “Danvers War Meeting” at the outbreak of the Civil War, and the site for our town’s communal mourning of the martyred President Abraham Lincoln. It was also the location for Town Meetings, the first being Danvers’s annual Town Meeting held on March 5, 1855. That same year the Holten High School began operations on the second floor with 67 students being taught by principal Nathaniel Hills and his assistant.
With a growing town population, this workhorse building was reinvented to accommodate new space and community needs, including four major renovations in 1883, 1896, 1934 and 1949. The 1890s renovation was designed in the Colonial Revival style with much newly added ornamentation, the introduction of two wings off of the main building with grand towers above each wing reaching a height of 93 feet. Unfortunately the towers proved structurally problematic and in 1949 they were removed. The present building best reflects the 1890s renovation, though strong elements of the original 1855 design are present, as well as the 1949 work.
Besides serving as our Holten High School for almost 80 years until 1931, and space for all our town offices and location of scores of Town Meetings, this building also served at different times as a police lock-up and the initial location of George Peabody’s gift of a town library. Painted murals depicting historic scenes in Danvers executed by artists including Richard Ellery and Solomon Levenson were installed throughout the building in the mid 1930s as part of a WPA era Artist and Waters Project. Most were removed during the 1949 renovation, though in 1970 we rediscovered them, with three of the most important murals restored by the Danvers Studio Group and prominently rehung at Town Hall, to recall both an important town heritage and a depression era contribution.
Though each renovation was met by discussion of possibly abandoning the building for new quarters and concerns about the taxes needed to maintain and renovate, this building, sitting on the confluence of two major town roadways and with its front yard containing commemorative memorials to our local military dead, remained and remains the literal and symbolic center of Danvers and of our town government. To date it has served more than seven generations of Danversites.
The earlier of the two photos illustrated here and obtained for the Archives through Dave McKenna, though somewhat damaged, gives an unusual view of the original building dated to the specific time period of September 1881. The building and Civil War Monument in front have been decked out in mourning bunting due to the September 19th death of President James A. Garfield, the result of an assassination’s bullet. Many of the Greek Revival features described above can be seen in this unusual photograph.
The second photograph is an albumen snapshot made by an amateur photographer around 1900. Though the print is now darkened and with less contrast than when it was made, careful examination of it shows the Town Hall in its full Colonial Revival style with the high towers which gave it a grand visual display. These two images join our archival photograph collection of many other professional, amateur and post card views of this Danvers’s most visible symbol of government, continuity and heritage.
Recently we had a local tree service cut down a large 60 foot Norway Maple which stood very close to the back of my ca. 1681 house at 35 Centre Street. Back in July 1999, the day my daughter was married, an after-reception party in our recently manicured yard was forced inside by a fast moving and damaging microburst which mowed down a large number of trees in our neighborhood and let loose several large limbs of this Norway Maple. Ten years later we were preparing for another outdoor party to celebrate my wife’s birthday, Ethel spending several weeks fixing up the yard, including grassing in new areas. Two days before the party another localized microburst rushed down Centre Street and trashed our yard and several neighborhoods in Danvers. The Norway Maple lost more limbs, some just missing the house. Microbursts are very localized columns of sinking air which produce damaging straight-line winds. On both occasions the damage was caused within a 30-40 second period. After the second event, on the 10th anniversary of the first, I got the paranoid feeling that the Trasks weren’t meant to have outdoor parties. I felt that in spite of the damage to our grounds (which friends and relatives pitched in to clean up the day before the party), at least it wasn’t a hurricane. It was after our second microburst experience, however, that we decided the old Norway Maple, which could very well wipe out much of our house, had to go.
So what does all this have to do with new gifts to the Archives? I’m getting there! Atlantic hurricane season is from June 1 through November 30, the time period when over 90% of these storms appear. Though New England is a long way from the Caribbean, on occasion we are hit by one of these extreme weather events. Prior to the 1940s there was scant prediction of these storms hitting land fall and the word “hurricane” had not been coined. “Severe storms” or “gales” were the historical descriptions used for what we now believe were occasional hurricanes hitting New England.
The original Waters River Bridge on Water Street had been built at great expense in 1760 for passage of a new road to Salem. The road was a matter of much contention among various sections of Danvers and involved in court action for many years. Then what is described as “one of the most violent and destructive storms of wind and rain that ever occurred on the New England coast” slammed the area on October 20, 1770. Many lives were lost, ships sunk, houses and barns blown down and Danvers’s expensive Waters River Bridge was completely obliterated.
The following year a faction within town rebuilt the bridge, but their work was declared illegal by Town government. The bridge and road controversy, in which lawyer and future U.S. President John Adams was hired to advocate for the town, was one of the most contentious periods in town history. Finally the neighborhood around the bridge agreed to pay themselves for the continued maintenance of this road and bridge and the area was incorporated into “The Neck of Land District,” which continued to function into 1840. Hurricanes always bring grief and expense.
In the 20th century Danvers was hit by several strong hurricanes including what is called “the New England Hurricane of 1938” and a double hit to Danvers and the region in 1954 when Hurricane Carol came through on August 31, followed on September 11 by Hurricane Edna, both category 3 hurricanes. Over 1,000 town trees were destroyed, including 31 which fell on houses. As a little boy full of wonder and not responsible for picking up, I remember having all sorts of fun looking at and climbing on uprooted trees strewn all over my neighborhood and living for several days without electricity-just like the pioneers. Then in August 1955 Hurricane Diane also swept through New England with heavy rainfall.
Though there have been several other hurricanes locally, none matched the 1938 Hurricane, which is believed to be the most destructively powerful storm in historic times and was the first major New England hurricane since 1869. The brunt of damage occurred in Rhode Island and Connecticut, with significant flooding and a death toll of over 700 people.
Well, after following this convoluted tale, let me tell you about its tie-in with the Archival Center. Several weeks ago, during the same week, I received two separate gifts by people named Watson.
George Watson, a school chum of my wife who now lives in New Mexico and is related to the Ropes and Putnam families in Danvers, sent the Archives a family collection including diaries kept by Percy F. Phillips during the 1940s and diaries of his wife Rachael Archer (Dow) Phillips kept from the 1930s to 1960s. The Phillips family lived at 17 Holten Street. Also that same week, Mrs. Priscilla Watson (no relation) came into the Archives with a donation of a number of photographs, including of a grade school class photograph taken in front of the Charter Street School in 1904. Among several snapshot photos was one lone 3” x 4 ½” image with a notation on the reverse of the image describing the photo as “Sept. 1938 Hurricane damage looking up Cherry St.” The snapshot shows Cherry Street with tree damage, and a house at the left which is 17 Holten Street with cut up tree limbs and brush seen in the foreground. This is the ca. 1853 Ephraim Getchell house. Getchell died of disease in North Carolina during the Civil War. The house still stands, minus the front porch shown in the photo. In 1938 it was owned by the Phillips family whose diaries I had just received from New Mexico.
I thought it would be interesting to see what Mrs. Phillips, then 60 years old, had written in her diary about the Hurricane. Her notation for September 21, 1938 begins with a reference to the day being a state primary election day. “Rainy – Terrible election (primary). Butler swamped Curley – won Democrats. Terrific wind storm struck us at about 4:30 trees all blown down – large ash tree in front of house went down at 6 o’clock – all light & telephone wires down – apple tree gone & bird feeding station – didn’t subside until 12 o’clock. Men worked out front on trees all nite – trees all around us gone.” The hurricane reference from these two disparate gifts is a nice little example of how sources when used together can give a local slice of reality to an event in history. It also speaks to a potential disaster we have been able to avoid in New England for many years. At least if a hurricane hits in the future, I will not have to worry about that old Norway Maple.
In anticipation of Danvers kids soon returning to School for the 2009/2010 academic year, it seemed appropriate this month to describe a school related item from the archive collection. The Danvers Archival Center recently acquired a one page handwritten contract dating from 1817 for the building of a public grammar school house in Danvers. The agreement was made between a committee of Danvers School District #13 and local carpenter Stephen Whipple.
Since its creation as a town in 1750s, Danvers supported town grammar schools in its several neighborhoods during portions of each year. In 1794, the town (then consisting of both present day Danvers and Peabody) was divided into school districts. Each district was managed by a prudential committee composed of interested neighbors. In 1816 Danvers Town Meeting created a School Committee which would be responsible for universal oversight of the 13 separate school districts. In 1817 the committee issued its first annual report which, though commenting favorably on most districts, did criticize that too many students “were destitute of laudable ambition and their parents were in the habit of granting them unreasonable indulgences.” Some things change, some things remain the same.
The new School District Number 13 had just been established in 1816 in Danvers Plains, which was a fairly new and a rapidly growing section of town in need of a school house of its own. The new school was to be located at what is now 49 Maple Street, at the corner of School Street.
Among the district committee members signing the building contract was John Page, a brick manufacturer who lived on Elm Street in the home which was eventually moved to 11 Page Street and now serves as the headquarters of the Danvers Historical Society. The agreement called for the construction of a hip roof frame building 9 feet to the roof, 28 feet long and 21 feet wide. Eight large windows with 20 7” x 9” panes of glass each were to be installed with workable shutters. For his efforts, carpenter Stephen Whipple was paid $447.
The school was open to students generally between the age of 4 and 16. The Holy Bible was the first listed of approved texts, and during the school year teachers were required to instruct at least 6 hours per weekday and not less than 3 hours on Saturday. Subjects studied included reading, spelling, writing, English grammar, arithmetic and geography, while “those versed in these may be taught Rhetoric, composition, geometry, navigation, rudiments of philosophy, together with Latin & Greek.”
This 1817 building remained the grammar school for Danvers Plains until 1838 when it was replaced with a two story brick school located on School Street, the building eventually serving as Danvers’s Fire and Police Station.
People bring in all sorts of items for donation to the Danvers Archival Center, some more unusual than others. Some time ago Melissa Sue Gillis of Bayview Avenue brought in what could certainly be described as unusual items – two 19th century gravestones! Yes, once in a while a gravestone finds its way into the Archival Center collections. These stones, typically composed of slate or marble, are often worn out stones, or markers with textual mistakes that were removed from a grave to be replaced with a newer or more accurate version. Frugal Yankees would not throw away such flat stones, but recycled them for other practical uses such as a cap to an old well.
Ms. Gillis had found these stones adjacent to her garage, possibly used as a solid lip to its entrance. According to Melissa, they were face down and looked quite finished. When she got the chance to lift them up, she saw “they were not just stones” but looked to be gravestones and she contacted the Archives. One of the stones, a marble rectangular marker with a pediment shaped header, was 23 ¾” tall, 12 ½” wide and 2” thick. The stone was chiseled to read: “CAROLINE A. daug’r of John & S. Withey. died Feb. 15, 1858, AEt. 2 yrs. 3 mos.” Cut into the stone at the bottom was the hopeful sentiment, “We part to meet again.” This poor child died so young and has been gone for over 150 years. She left the world no lasting impression, except to her then immediate and grieving family who themselves have all died generations ago. Was this a reject stone that was replaced by a new version?
I quickly found a personal empathy with this little girl, as I immediately recognized her parents’ names as being those of my great-great grandparents. John Withey was born in 1814 and married Sally Boynton in 1834. He was a miller by trade and father of eleven children, four of whom died in infancy. With the coming of the Civil War beginning in 1861, four of Withey’s boys joined the Union army. The youngest, Samuel P., enlisted at age 16 as a musician in the 40th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Apparently his parents were concerned about Samuel’s well-being, as John, at the advanced age of 47, enlisted in July 1862 in the same company and regiment as his son. In 1864, Corporal John Withey became ill, was initially placed in a military hospital and died in July. His name is among those inscribed on the Danvers Civil War Monument in front of Town Hall.
Back in 1857, Withey had purchased for $30 a two hundred square foot cemetery plot on Clematis Path at Walnut Grove Cemetery on Sylvan Street. Walnut Grove had been established and consecrated in 1844 as the town’s first landscaped rural park cemetery. Mirroring the social movement begun with the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Walnut Grove was a sylvan memorial park with specimen flora and fauna, long walking paths and idyllic natural scenes, all creating a lovely, secluded space for the dead to rest and the living to enjoy.
From years of visits to Walnut Grove including the placing of a flag on John’s grave, which has no mention of his military death, I know the plot where he is buried. The plot includes two larger stones marking John and wife Sally’s burial location. A gap separates these two parent stones from a smaller stone marking the resting place of Alexander Sylvester Withey who had died April 6, 1857 at the tender age of 6 years and 7 months.
The Walnut Grove Cemetery Corporation records are among deposit collections kept at the Danvers Archival Center. I consulted these records, as well as the Danvers death records to find that Caroline A. Withey had originally been born in Beverly and had died in Danvers of “fever” on February 15, 1858. An account book belonging to undertaker Peter Wait and given to the Archives in 1983 included under February 16, 1858, that John Withey was charged “to intering the remains of his child” at a cost of $2.50, as well as for a “coffin and plate for the same.” Caroline had indeed been buried at Walnut Grove, right next to her brother, undoubtedly in the gap among the three surviving stones. The stone brought to the Archives was apparently the only marker to Caroline’s grave.
I contacted Walnut Grove’s Cemetery Manager, Don Tutko and he was able to confirm that this was the lot where baby Caroline had been buried. I gave the marble marker to Don who kindly reset the gravestone on the plot of ground where Caroline’s dust lies. Why and for how long this stone went missing remains a mystery. But that mystery matters little now that this little girl’s memorial stone, through the efforts of two strangers and a distant relative, has been reunited with her remains. And for the first time in years, the memory of Caroline’s existence will stand in muted evidence to all that happen to pass by.
In 2005 the Archival Center received a large gift of family papers, eight photograph albums dating up to about 1935, and several hundred loose photos and negatives relating to the large Rundlett family of Danvers. Donated by John Hardy Wright of Salem, a well known appraiser, author and antiquarian, the material was catalogued and stored. Among the gift were a number of 2 ½” x 3 ½” negatives. Recently we asked Finer Image Photo Lab on Park Street to process a group of these negatives as 4” x 6” prints for inclusion in the Rundlett collection. The prints are very revealing about domestic life in a Danvers neighborhood about one hundred years ago. They show the Fred M. and Mary Rundlett family living at 132 Holten Street and members of their extended family which lived in at least two other houses close by on Holten Street.
Fred Rundlett was a shoecutter born in Danvers in 1866. He and Mary had three children including Hollis E. who was born December 31, 1898. A sample of these snapshot photos reproduced here reveal: a view of the 1855 Gothic Revival style house built for Dr. Jesse W. Snow at 141 Holten Street. The house still stands today, though now missing its board & batten siding and gingerbread vergeboards. In another image a baby peers from in a wicker laundry basket with a high-style wicker baby carriage topped by a dainty parasol nearby. The baby is tended to by a woman wearing a leg-o’-mutton sleeve blouse. In another photo two men enjoy the air sitting on a wooden yard swing. Fred Rundlett sits at right with son Hollis between the men and all gussied up in a formal maritime style “Middie” suit. In a vertical snapshot, the local grocery man in bibbed trousers is bringing an order from his enclosed delivery wagon into the Rundlett house. In the background can be seen the side of the ca. 1854 house originally owned by William Robotham at 130 Holten Street. The other vertical photograph shows Hollis feeding the family chickens in front of the wall tent he used for military play with his friends. Hollis wears a loose fitting frock and short trousers. These and other early 1900s snapshot “slices of reality” reveal to us some features which still survive in Danvers, as well as many features of life, style and technology that have changed forever.
The topic of 1692 Salem witchcraft remains a popular subject in both American history and literature, as well as with the national media. This month marks the culmination of a major witchcraft publication project in which the Peabody Institute Library and Danvers Archival Center have been intimately involved for the last 8 years. The book, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt is just published by Cambridge University Press and weighs in at 11 lbs. and containing over 1,000 pages. The tome is the first comprehensive transcription of all surviving legal documents relating to the Salem witch events running from February 1692 to the end of 1693. A great many of these events took place in what is now Danvers and known in 1692 as Salem Village.
Professor Bernard Rosenthal, author of Salem Story (1993) and professor at State University of New York at Binghampton was familiar with a book I had produced in 1992 during the 300th anniversary of the witchcraft events. Titled The Devil Hath Been Raised, this book was initially underwritten by the Danvers Historical Society as a fund raiser and included new transcriptions of the surviving witchcraft records of March 1692, the first month of the witch outbreak. For the first time in publishing history, I had arranged these legal records in chronological order. Professor Rosenthal asked if I would be interested in participating in a new edition of the over 1,000 witchcraft papers, and he accepted the challenge to have the edition reflect the chronological use of these legal documents. Library Director Doug Rendell and the Board of Trustees agreed to the participation of the Peabody Institute Library and the Archival Center, the only non-collegiate institution to become a co-sponsor. The project eventually attracted 11 international scholars as associate editors, including linguists and historians from the United States, Finland and Sweden. Assisting locally were library staff members Eva Veilleux and Mary Jane Wormstead, as well as Ethel Trask.
A major accomplishment of this work includes publishing over 40 newly discovered witchcraft documents never before printed in such a work. A later edition of The Devil Hath Been Raised had included 17 documents or fragments of legal records discovered by me over the years. These documents were incorporated into the new edition, as well as several dozen additional documents located by the editors in other obscure and previously unearthed sources. These newly located documents, including examinations of 5 accused witches, depositions, and indictments, add important new knowledge to our understanding of the witchcraft events.
New transcriptions of all the known documents were also made correcting many previous omissions and errors. Explanatory notes were also produced about the documents, including their often multiple use in various of the legal procedures in which accused persons often went through the process of a preliminary hearing, grand jury and finally a trial. Another first for this edition is the identity of many of the transcribers of the documents through handwriting analysis. These identifications reveal insights of who recorded what, when.
Augmenting the documentary record is an appendix with brief biographical notes on all the hundreds of persons mentioned in these documents. The front matter includes several essays. General Editor Rosenthal wrote the historical introduction, while six of the professors contributed to a linguistic essay. I contributed an introductory essay outlining the legal procedures used during the witch trials and a brief history of the previous published versions of these records.
The book’s dust jacket features a portion of a title page of one of the contemporary books on witchcraft, the facsimile taken from a book within the Danvers Archival Center’s rare book collection, for which the Archives received a fee.
The project continued over many years in spurts of intense activity, followed by calmer periods. I and several of the editors, including Rosenthal, Margo Burns and Benjamin Ray of the University of Virginia, were able to spend many hours examining the original documents, including finding where through ink changes the document had been added to at various times during the legal procedures, and where various documents had been cut and separated. Determining the original dates of creation of these documents, many of which were not dated, included interesting historic detective work.
The $150 book can be used as a reference book or read as an unfolding narrative of the events of 1692. Copies should be available for patron reference within the month both in the Archive and in the Reference collections. The volume’s production is a major event in the intellectual history of the understanding of the 1692 witchcraft events, and a proud and important contribution by our public library and town archives.
In the fall of 1935 seventeen members of the Holten High School baton squad posed on the front steps of the Richmond Junior High School entrance on Conant Street. The squad marched with the High School band, performing at Saturday football half-times and the traditional Thanksgiving game, as well as during rallies and parades. Mr. Ollie Ahearn privately instructed squad members on the twirling and throwing techniques of the heavy batons for 25¢ per hour. The batons, with their large bulbous wooden heads, made for a dramatic scene if spun into the air and then caught with grace and style. The squad members are clothed in long woolen skirts, bobby sox and a variety of light colored footwear. Most sport handmade knit berets and they all proudly wear the traditional “Big D” Danvers blue sweaters designating their hometown.
Among the young ladies posing here are sisters Dorothy S. Kimball (later Kraft) and Flora L. Kimball (later Curtis) in the middle row 2 nd and 3 rd from the right; Henrietta Newbegin (later Sears) in the back row 2 nd from the right; and my aunt Carolyn Esty Trask (later Foster) in the back row middle. Carolyn was the first of several generations of family women who proudly performed with the baton squad, including her younger sister Margery, future daughter-in-law Ann Frazier, nieces Faye Graffam, Diane Bockus and Ethel Boghosian (drum majorette) and grandniece Elizabeth Trask (captain). By the early 1990s the baton squad had evolved into a rifle & flag squad, the carried objects still used for intricate visual twirling effects.
The collections of the Danvers Archival Center include valuable and historically important materials that directly relate to our local, regional and national history, as well as simple, ephemeral items that reflect some phase of local culture, and eras now past. Here is the story of one new item just recently donated to the town by a local couple:
It is fitting during the national campaign frenzy just prior to the 2008 Presidential election that we spotlight a local presidential election badge used in a similar campaign 168 years ago. We might think that the current rhetoric calls for change and reform are new and that the negative campaigning we see in print or on T.V. are features of modern America. Think again! The 1840 Presidential campaign between sitting Democrat President Martin Van Buren and Whig candidate William Henry Harrison was the first of the “modern” political campaigns wherein slogans, huge rallies, massive campaign literature drops and smear tactics against one’s opponent became a regular part of Presidential elections.
The Van Buren administration inherited a weak national economy and became plagued by high inflation, numerous business failures and significant unemployment. This economic down-turn became known as “The Panic of 1837,” and the sitting President did little to manage the ongoing economic crisis. The new Whig political party saw in these bad times the possibility of capturing the White House. They nominated southerner and Indian War hero William Henry Harrison for President and Virginian John Tyler as his running mate.
Van Buren, a well-to-do New Yorker and protégée of Andrew Jackson, underestimated the fairly new and untried Whig Party and attempted to portray Harrison as a dull rustic. A partisan Democratic newspaper said of Harrison “Give him a barrel of hard cider and a pension of $2,000 and he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin.”
Though Harrison was of an established Virginian family and enjoyed a luxurious life above that of most of his contemporaries, the Whig “PR” handlers of the time molded his persona into a native “Joe Six Pack” of his era contrasted against an aloof, rich and aristocratic President.
The Whigs went to town flooding the nation with badges, posters, and frenzied public rallies, all extolling the virtues of Harrison as “the common man,” and the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate. Years earlier in 1811 Harrison led soldiers in a victorious battle at Tippecanoe against Indians angry at their loss of Midwestern lands. He then went on to be elected to several state and national offices including that of U.S. Senator.
The Whig campaign took on the catchy slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” to celebrate Harrison as a national hero. In Danvers several local carpenters built a full scale replica of a rustic log cabin, put it on wheels and Perley Tapley had an impressive 40-yoke of oxen pull this campaign image at several area political parades. A barrel of hard cider was part of the float and prospective voters were invited to have a swig in honor of the Whig candidate. The incorrect but perceived public image of Harrison portrayed him as a simple man of the people.
Though the now familiar circular metal pinback political buttons would not come into popular use until the McKinley/Bryan campaigns of the 1890s, supporters in 1840 often wore imprinted silk ribbons pinned to their breasts. The ribbon illustrated here measures 7” by 2½” and was engraved by George Girdler Smith of Boston. The badge features a bust portrait of Harrison below a banner reading “Harrison & Reform,” and with a star and the word “Constitution” above that. Beneath the portrait is a vignette surrounded by a wreath, the image revealing a log cabin scene depicting Harrison at the plow as he greets a former military comrade. In the right background is a shadow image of the Bunker Hill Monument still under construction in 1840 and with the words “Bunker” and “Hill” on either side of the wreath.
This badge was created for wearing at a Harrison Convention to be held at Bunker Hill in Charlestown, Massachusetts on September 10, 1840. At the top of the badge are the words “Danvers Delegation.” Numerous town Whig supporters attending this political event were identified by their ribbon designation. The Harrison rally of September 10 attracted some 20,000 participants from New England and numerous other states. They gathered at Boston Common and marched eight abreast on a four-mile parade to Bunker Hill. Keynote speaker was Daniel Webster. A heavy rainstorm interrupted the proceedings during which Webster remarked to the crowd, “Any rain gentlemen, but the reign of Martin Van Buren.”
Harrison won the general election in November and on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1841, the newly sworn-in 67-year-old President gave the longest outdoor speech in inaugural history in a cold and wet environment. He soon contracted pneumonia and died a month later on April 4, 1841, the new Vice President John Tyler becoming the tenth President of the United States.
This month’s item is an ornate stock certificate dating to August 1873 recently acquired by the Archives. Measuring 7” x 10,” the certificate is made out to a woman in Brookline, Massachusetts who acquired three shares in capital stock of the First National Bank in Danvers. The engraved item includes a form of the Massachusetts state seal at lower left and a vignette with two Indians, Lady Liberty and a Revolutionary soldier gazing upon an oval image of the “Father of our Country,” George Washington.
The first bank established in Danvers was the Village Bank, located at the head of Elm Street next to the then location of the Page House. This bank was established by Danvers shoe manufacturers in April 1836. In 1854 a new high style Italianate brick, granite and sandstone bank building was constructed at 17 Maple Street. Of three and one-half stories and possessing an octagonal cupola, this building has served numerous banking establishments into the present. Though the cupola, pitched roof and third floor were all removed by the late 1940s, the first two stories of this building still stands on Maple Street and serves as a branch of the Sovereign Bank.
The original Village Bank was reorganized in October 1864 as a fiduciary trust with the new name of the First National Bank of Danvers and with capital of $150,000. Its president from 1856 until his death in 1886 was local merchant Daniel Richards who operated a Grocery and West India Goods store on Elm Street where the Atrium now stands. His residence was what is now the Lyons Funeral Home at 28 Elm Street, built in 1842. Cashier of the bank was William L. Weston, who served in that position for 43 years, from 1841 to 1884. Both men’s signatures are at the bottom of the stock certificate, with ink slash marks indicating the shares were later cashed in. In 1904 the bank changed its name to the Danvers National Bank.
This neat 1907 photographic souvenir of school days in the early 20th century was recently donated to the archives. The item measures 4 ½” x 6” with the photograph mounted under glass and possessing a novelty brass chain framing the image and making it suitable for hanging on a wall. The larger, slightly faded image is that of the Danversport School House which was built on Water Street in 1893-4 in the Colonial Revival architectural style. This school building was the first in a flurry of four new state-of-the-art schools constructed in Danvers during the 1890s. Elisha B. Peabody was the Danvers contractor and the eight classrooms served grades 1 through 8. The school was dedicated on September 1, 1894, and served as an elementary school until 1980. It was later converted into housing and stands today quite similar in exterior design as when it was first built. The wing to the left is one of two main entrances and wood quoins dress the corners of the building, which is painted to accentuate the architectural trim.
The pretty young lady seen in the photo insert which is part of the print itself, is Miss Beatrice E. Moser. The 8-year-old Danversport student was born on Valentine’s Day 1899 and lived with her parents Joseph W. & Emma T. (Regan) Moser at the Story house at 11 Harbor Street, the father a shoemaker. This photo is dated 1907 on the reverse and in September of that year Beatrice enrolled in Abbie E. Stetson’s combined grade 3-4. The class was composed of 48 students who attended 176 ½ school days. During the first 3 months of the school year Beatrice was absent 3 days and tardy 2. In the photograph she stands just to the right of a door to her house and is smartly dressed in a broad brimmed hat and a heavy double breasted lapel coat with sleeves pleated at the shoulders.
In 1907 the town had just hired a new school superintendent, Henry C. Sanborn. The School Board reported that for the last two years Danvers had opened the school year beginning the Monday following Labor Day and that this date “is still an open subject with the Board.” Parents, students and teachers were urged to give an opinion as to when school should be opened, keeping in mind that it must remain in session for 40 weeks. Attendance at Danversport included 256 students being taught by 7 teachers. The salary for Danvers teachers had recently been increased to a maximum of $550 and the Board commented that “ Danvers is not fortunate in having large business interests or great wealth in the Town, but we believe we have good schools, and are now enjoying the services of a corps of excellent teachers.”
As the cost of transportation in our own time becomes ever more expensive, this recently donated document shows that vehicular expenses are not new to the United States. The document is a 7 ½” x 6” partially printed receipt was issued in September 1798 to Israel Putnam of Danvers for the tax he had to pay on his vehicle.
In 1794 U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton shepherded through Congress a revenue generating tax “to lay duties upon carriages for the conveyance of persons for private use.” This tax, along with the violently unpopular tax on distilled whiskey, was leveled on a specific class of commodities to help generate income for the new Federal government in the era before individual income tax. The Federal government obtained most of its income through tariffs. This newly conceived tax was directed to the more well-to-do citizens who could afford a personal conveyance. The tax could cost from $1 to $10, a not inconsequential amount at a time when $1 was a common laborers weekly pay. Farm wagons and public conveyance vehicles such as stage coaches were exempt from the tax.
This new tax was not popular and in 1795 it was challenged in court assending all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The petitioners in Hylton v. U.S. claimed this was a direct tax which is prohibited by the Constitution. In March 1796 the Court ruled the levy was an indirect tax in a 3 to 0 opinion, and the tax stood.
This donated receipt was signed by Salem Collector of the Revenue George Osborn, the tax amounting to $3 for a two-wheel chaise drawn by one horse and accommodating only two people. The chaise (French for chair) was a fairly simple carriage often referred to as a “shay.” It was basically a seat with a body composed of wood and leather springs attached to two wheels and covered by a “Fallback” hood that could be folded down. These lightweight, springed vehicles were useful on the rutted New England dirt roads.
The chaise owner was Danversite Israel Putnam (1743-1825) who was the son of Col. David Putnam and nephew to the recently deceased famed American folk hero General Israel Putnam (1718-1790). The Danvers chaise owner was a successful farmer and resided in the Putnam house now numbered 431 Maple Street and owned by the Danvers Historical Society. This document is one of a half dozen similar carriage tax receipts found within our various archival collections.
This month’s spotlight from among the collections of the Archival Center is an image of George Peabody just acquired by a $20 purchase last week. The image is an albumen photograph mounted on cardstock measuring 4” x 2 ¼” and known as a “carte-de-visite.” These photographic visiting cards were patented beginning in 1854 by Frenchman Andre Disderi who combined the novelty of the new art of photography with portraiture in an inexpensive format. This size photograph fast became the most frequent mode of portrait photography, with the ability of creating multiple copies of the same image. They were popularly exchanged among family and friends and were veraciously collected, including images of famous people made available for sale by photographers.
Born of humble beginnings in 1795 in the South Parish of Danvers, George Peabody went on to become the most famous local boy of the last half of the nineteenth century. Moving to London he acquired a personal fortune of some 16 million dollars as a merchant banker. Beginning in the 1850s Peabody became the first great American philanthropist, giving in 1852 money to create the Peabody Institute Library. Other gifts included $2.5 million to create housing for London’s poor and $2 million for the assistance of southern education following the Civil War. Peabody donated over $9 million of his estimated worth. He was on hand for the dedication of the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers in July 1869 and died in London in November of the same year. This portrait made by Disderi in London about 1866 shows a dignified Peabody seated with a pair of pince-nez glasses in one hand and a document in the other.
Prior to 1995 the Danvers Archival Center had no carte-de-visite images of Peabody, but thanks to donations and the internet our collection of different carte-de-visite views of Peabody photographed between the 1850s and 60s now numbers over 30.
Those who venture into the Archival Center’s reading room will notice several portraits of Danversites hanging on the wall. One of these portraits preserves the features of a man who participated in the birth of American independence.
As an old man of 93 years, Levi Preston (1756-1850) was the subject of an oil-on-canvas painting by famed Danvers artist Abel Nichols in about 1849. Preston had been a farmer most of his life and also served in the elected position of Danvers Selectman. He was a communicant at the First Church, Congregational in Danvers. His leathery face shows a long hard life, though the softness of his eyes reveals a youthful spirit.
Decades earlier, as a youth of 19, Preston had shouldered his musket to march with Captain Samuel Flint’s Company of Militia, and took part in the Lexington Alarm of April 19, 1775. The Danvers men confronted retreating British troops at Menotomy a small village just outside of Cambridge and suffered many casualties, including seven Danvers men killed in the vicious fire fight.
When asked many years after the Lexington Alarm why he had taken up arms against the Mother County, Preston simply but eloquently explained: “What we meant in fighting the British was this – We always had been free and we meant to be free always.”
This valuable portrait was generously donated to the Danvers Archival Center in 1995 by Elizabeth Moody Harris of Washington State.
Online beginning August 2013