This somewhat unusual report is of activities at the Danvers Archival Center from July 2019 to June 30, 2020. On Thursday afternoon March 12, 2020 the nasty Covid virus forced official Danvers to abruptly close down due to the ravages of this our first major twenty-first century pandemic. The Library and Archives remained closed to the public during the last four months of our fiscal year. And though we continued to limp along offering some Archive resources from my home via email and phone, our regular Archive hours of operation and availability of resources were no longer in play. At the very end of the fiscal year, on June 22, 2020, department heads were allowed back into the building wearing protective masks and on a schedule of one week on and the next week off, so that we could keep library staff to a minimum and with minimum personal contact. A bit later part time staff were also allowed back on the same schedule. If I needed to give a patron a house marker or other material, or pick up donations to the Archives, we would arrange a time to meet at the Children’s Room door.
The Danvers Archival Center first opened in October 1972, following a Danvers Town Meeting vote authorizing the establishment of the position of Town Archivist as a department head within the Peabody Institute Library. Our first home was in the lower level of the brick and concrete Danvers Historical Society’s “Memorial Hall” building at 13 Page Street. The Danvers Historical Society gave over their Memorial Hall basement to the Town of Danvers’s new Archival Center at no cost to the town.
Then in 1981 the Archives moved to the newly expanded Peabody Institute Library at 15 Sylvan Street, which included an underground addition to the library designed specifically for the Archival Center. It included a large public research room, a secure manuscript storage area, and a walk-in vault with a 6-hour fire-rated door.
Our Archival collection policy explains our reason for existence, and the collections we gather and preserve: “The Danvers Archival Center is a repository for information relating to the history and development of the geographical area encompassing Salem Village and Danvers, Massachusetts. The Archival Center performs its mission by gathering and collecting flat, informational materials through gifts and purchases and through permanent deposits in cases where the material is owned by functioning corporate organizations. Among items collected by the Archival Center are books, pamphlets, monographs, manuscripts, broadsides, newspapers, maps, architectural drawings, photographs, prints, audio and video tapes, films, DVDs, CDs, and microfilms.”
Our materials are stored in a secure and stable environment, and are available to all who wish to use them. They include materials deposited by Danvers town agencies and organizations, as well as new items being regularly donated by the public or purchased through our annual budget. I believe our collection is one of the largest and most important documentary resources of a community of its size in the entire country. It is a collection of a seldom-found mixture of diverse municipal, corporate, and private research materials gathered together through a cooperative combination from many organizations that were willing to turn over physical custody of their papers for their being conserved, preserved, properly stored, catalogued and accessible. We are committed to continuously upgrading our collections, and properly storing and protecting them for use by the present and future generations.
This report will highlight our Archival Center activities during fiscal year 2020, between July 2019 and June 2020, though the Archives itself was closed to the public from March 13, 2020.
Thanks to Library Director Alex Lent and Assistant Director Jennifer McGeorge who were always supportive to the Archives and managed the Library and staff during unprecedented and very difficult times. They kept us informed via frequent on-line zoom meetings, and email as to multiple changes. Thanks also to Jim Riordan who creates and cares for the technical aspects of our archive website, and to accountant Susan Kontos who always assists me with the Archive budget, and its many quirks. Thanks also to the nine-member Board of Library Trustees and President Mike Hagan who made sure to keep us safe during the pandemic. Town Manager Steve Bartha, the Board of Selectpersons, and official Danvers are to also be acknowledged for their leadership, and empathy to keep its employees informed and safe, and the public continually served as best as possible.
I also want to thank Julie Silk who has worked at the Archives two afternoons a week since the summer of 2016. A skillful and meticulous worker, I rely upon Julie for all manner of tasks and support, and she did yeoman service to get rid of the backlog of emails and other tasks not able to be taken care of during the Archive being closed.
Thomas Marsella volunteers at the Archives on Wednesday mornings. He has been here since April 2003. For the 32 weeks we were open this fiscal year, Tom gave us 83 hours of volunteer work. I thank Tom for his very important assistance.
For the weeks we were open, we obtained, accessioned, processed, and catalogued 26 new books for inclusion within our Public Reading Room book collection. Nine of the books were purchased, the others gifts.
Our nationally known “Ellerton J. Brehaut Witchcraft Collection” continues to expand. This year we acquired through purchase for our rare book collection The Witch of Salem by John R. Musick (1909).
Author Rebecca F. Pittman had been in contact with the Archives over several months while working on her new 2019 book, The History and Haunting of Salem. The 634 page quirky volume is divided into a history of the witchcraft events of 1692, and then an extensive section of modern-day interviews, a guide for places to visit, and modern historiography. There is an interview of me concerning my research work on Salem witchcraft and the Archive collections, as well as sections about our Danvers Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial, and production of the 1985 movie Three Sovereigns for Sarah. Scattered throughout the book are pictures from the Archive collection for which we received a fee, and photos taken by and of me.
Our “Danvers History” book collection received as donations a number of printed items which have all been processed, catalogued, and put on the shelf. The new volumes included: The Church and Manor of Puttenham by M. C. Vincent (1987); St Richard Parish, Danvers, 1963-1988 (1988); Concerning Base Hospital No. 5 (ca 1920); Annual Report of the Town of Danvers (2019 & 2020); and History of the Town and City of Gloucester, by James R. Pringle (1997 reprint of 1892 book). We also acquired by gift seven separate copies of Danvers Magazine, the quarterly periodical with local stories about town people, places, and activities.
Also donated to us were a huge number of serial volumes already within our collections, including Holten magazines, various issues of the Danvers Historical Society Collections (1913-1987), and numerous books. Six separate multiple gifts were donated to the Archives. Among them were: 3 issues of The Spire, Saint John’s Prep yearbook (1985, 1987, & 1988); 2 vital record volumes of Danvers up to 1850; 10 witchcraft books and pamphlets (1970s to 1990s); and 8 Danvers history volumes (1923-1995). Danvers High School Library donated 71 volumes including 18 Yearbooks (1947-1969) and 12 bound volumes of The Holten magazine (1908-1977). All told, the donations amounted to 104 books.
Among books and pamphlets we purchased for our printed local history collection were: The Correspondence of Gen. Thomas Gage, v. 1 & 2 (1931); Constitution of the Maternal Association of Danvers (1835); The Holyoke Diaries 1709-1856, by George F. Dow, ed. (1911); The Annual Register for the Year 1774 (1782); Knights of Pythias Declaration of Principles, By-Laws (1923); and The Houlton-Rea-Demsey House, by John F. Cole (2019).
Added by purchase to our separate Dr. Richard P. Zollo “John Greenleaf Whittier Collection” of books was the early volume Chapel of the Hermits published by Ticknor, Reed, and Fields in 1853 and now included within the Vault Collection.
“Ephemera” are a class of items which are typically single pamphlets, sheets, etc., originally meant for temporary use. These point-in-time bits of history, though not typically warranting individual cataloguing within our archival collection, can be very informative. Our ephemera collection is kept within acid-free folders under appropriate subject headings and placed in vertical file cabinets in our Manuscript Storage Room.
Among ephemera items donated to the Archives this past year were: Holten High School Glee Club and Band Concert program (1949); Danvers Women’s Association Yearbook (1950-1951); Holten High School Class of 1950 play Oh, Kay! program (1950); St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish Minstrel Show programs (1946, 1948, 1952, 1953); and 20 other newsclippings and tear sheets relating to Danvers and witchcraft subjects.
Items of ephemera are often offered for sale through the popular website, eBay. Among items I purchased were: three 19th century business trade cards issued by W. M. Currier; and a printed matchbook (without the matches) of Shady Oaks Cabins on Route One (1930s).
We sent formal gift acknowledgments to 18 individuals or institutions which donated books, items of ephemera, photographs, and/or manuscripts to the Archival Center, reflecting single or multiple donations to us. Many gifts came from Danvers residents, though gifts were also sent to us from such places as Manchester, Peabody, Salem, and Beverly, MA; Westminster, CO; Old Saybrook, CT; Loveland, CO; Sudbury, MA; and Holyoke, MA.
Occasionally we find within material donated to us items which do not relate to Danvers, and we attempt to place these items in appropriate collections. This past year we sent as unrestricted gifts items to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum in Lexington, and the Lynn, Beverly, and Peabody Historical Societies.
Several organizations and persons associated with class reunions were allowed to temporarily borrow duplicate items from our collections, including original or copies of photographs and documents for exhibition or research purposes. Among organizational borrowers were: Maple Street Congregational Church, the Danvers Garden Club, Danvers Historical Society, and the Danvers Alarm List Company.
We keep on a rack within the Public Reading Room subscriptions of several popular preservation periodicals including: Early American Life, Old House Journal, and Preservation News, as well as some genealogical subscriptions that help or reflect local families, including Essex Society of Genealogy, New England Historical Genealogical Register, New England Archivist, American Archivist, The Manuscript Society, and the journal of the Towne Family Association titled, About Towne.
During the 32 weeks we were open, we acquired 419 audio-visual items, mainly photographs, for our archival collection. We purchased 3 items, the remainder being gifts. The purchased items were: a cabinet photograph of John F. Valentine, MD (1890); and two original 16”x12” theatre costume design art sketches for a production of the play, The Crucible (1981). The very fine sketches included attached fabric swatches and were for costumes representing Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, two of the 1692 afflicted girls.
Our two main storage classifications for photographs are file boxes for people, arranged by last name; and buildings, arranged by street address. We only do complete cataloguing of images worthy of inclusion due to their age, rarity, or significance.
Photographs, prints, and other pictorial images donated to the Archives this past year included: 27 photographs of the Danvers State Hospital (1870s-1960s); a 4½”x10” photograph of High Street showing the Berry Tavern and the Universalist Church originally published in The Boston Traveler (March 1925); 33 cabinet graduation portraits of Holten High School graduates taken by Danvers photographer A. O. Elwell (1898); a mounted class photograph of Maple Street Grade 9 in front of the school (1914); 42 11”x14” Assessors’ Aerial Photos of various sections of Danvers (1944-1970); 3 DVD disks of the Danvers Virtual Memorial Day Program created and telecast by Danvers Community Access Cable TV (2020); 190 color prints by Matthew Martin of his Glen Magna garden restoration projects (2010-2020); 14 portrait photographs of the Holten High School Class of 1941, together with a roll photograph of their 1955 reunion, and a VHS videotape of their 1991 reunion; a photograph of the Junior High School Football Team (1954); and 80 8 ½”x 10” copy photographs of Danvers buildings taken by Frank Cousins (1890-1920).
A major Fine Art donation was made this year to the Archival Center. John and Carol Worcester had contacted me from Colorado, asking if we might like a portrait. It was a circa 1890s 42 inch by 35 inch oil-on-canvas painting with an intricate gilt frame of 46.5 inches by 39.5 inches of Doctor William Leonard Worcester (1845-1901). The painting was created by famed artist Isaac Henry Caliga, and includes a label on the reverse of the frame indicating the painting was exhibited at the “Boston Art Club.” Also offered were papers relating to the life, career, and death of Dr. Worcester, who was a staff physician and pathologist at Danvers State Hospital beginning in 1895.
The artist had significant connections with Danvers. Isaac Henry Steifel (1857-1944) had perfected the skill of portraiture in Europe in the late 1870s. Back in the Boston area after 1883, Steifel had his surname changed to Caliga, the Latin translation of Steifel. In 1893 he married Phoebe Johnson Woodman, ten years his junior and a cousin and “muse” to John Greenleaf Whittier, who lived at Oak Knoll in Danvers. The Caliga divorce in 1913 was the subject of much media attention.
As to the portrait, I quote a contemporary 1901 obituary notice about the subject:
“I have the sad duty of recording the decease of Dr. William Leonard Worcester, who has occupied the position of assistant physician and pathologist to this hospital (Danvers State Hospital) since 1895. His death occurred on June 9, 1901, under peculiarly painful circumstances, for, while engaged in his researches in the laboratory, he accidentally infected a finger. On the following day serious symptoms manifested themselves, and the fatal issue came after an illness of ten days.
As a psychiatrist Dr. Worcester held a high rank in this country, and as a pathologist he was an expert in that branch relating to mental diseases. He contributed largely to the literature of these subjects, and as a writer upon them he did not fall short of being an authority. Dr. Worcester was intellectually gifted, and his attainments were scholarly. His sympathies were large, and were always enlisted in his dealings with his patients, so that they always felt that in him they had a friend. The interests of the patients and the recognition of the rights of the insane were always uppermost in his mind. Dr. Worcester led a life of unselfish devotion to his special field. He is greatly missed by officers and patients, and, in the estimation of all who knew him and his life work, his death will leave a void in the ranks of our profession.”
We gratefully accepted this wonderful gift, and insisted in paying for the shipping of the portrait to Danvers.
A number of previously collected image categories within the Danvers Archival Center photographic collection were accessioned, sorted, and placed in Mylar-type sleeves by Tom Marcella, and then stored within acid-free storage folders.
We are quite proud of our Archival manuscript collections which include materials collected and owned outright by the Peabody Institute Library/Archival Center, and deposit collections including from all departments of the Town of Danvers going back to 1752, most all the churches in town, and dozens of active and defunct Danvers organizations, as well as the manuscript collections of the Danvers Historical Society.
Manuscripts donated to the Archives this past year included thirteen presentation binders with photos and maps relating to the Danvers Swamp Walk (1988-2015). These are volumes relating to the planning, implementation, and dedication of the Danvers Swamp Walk initiated by George Saluto and accomplished by numerous volunteers, businesses, organizations, and individual contributors. Included are large numbers of copies of color photographs, newspaper articles, correspondence, emails, reports, legal documents, and maps concerning the Swamp Walk, the Choate Farm, the Miriam E. Cooper Peach Orchard, and the Pulte Homes development project. Also included are the controversies and efforts that went into accomplishing this conservation walkway off Locust Street, near the Rail Trail and bordering with Wenham, culminating in the dedication of the walkway May 18, 2013.
Among several interesting manuscripts purchased during FY 2020, and now processed and catalogued are: a receipted order for leather from Ebenezer Dale (1786); a probate order for the division of an estate issued by Judge of Probate Samuel Holten (1802); the final segment of the 115 letter and 76 envelope collection of correspondence of Charles Augustus Peabody (1863-1873) obtained over several years from the seller; an ALS from playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) regarding permission for his play The Crucible being produced. Miller asks “Is this the same group which is doing The Crucible at Rhodes University [South Africa] directed by [playwright and director Athol] Fugard? If not, and if she will produce it for multiracial audiences, let her do it.” (1971); and school papers of Emma Flint Peabody (1847-1865), a student at Holten High School awarded the Peabody Medal in 1864. The papers include compositions, examinations, and other papers in arithmetic, spelling, geography, and penmanship (1861-1865). Sadly, Emma died September 30, 1865 of typhoid.
Several manuscript deposits were made this year to the Archives including: Records of the George Peabody Reception Committee (1856-1857) from the Town Clerk’s office; 14 award certificates given to the Danvers Garden Club for projects done by them (2010-2011, 2013 & 2016); and 350 partially printed cards filled out attesting loyalty to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1952-1977), deposited by the Danvers Board of Health. These yellow cards included text indicating “I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution … and I do not advocate … the overthrow of the government … by force or violence.” Cards were filled-in by employees having sensitive positions, including Auxiliary Police, Auxiliary Fire Department, Civil Defense, Public Health, Administrative, Nursing Service, and other first responders. Over half of the cards are dated and sworn to by Thurl D. Brown, as a notary public. Begun as a Cold War initiative, the Massachusetts oath was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1972, but began to be phased out.
Another collection area within the Archival Center is Maps, both printed and manuscript. This year we were gifted two Town of Danvers Zoning maps (1961 & 1970). Plans or Architectural Records are yet another collecting area within the Archival Center. These drawings were created by architects to assist in the visualization and building of the many types of structures. One donation within this category included 78 blueprint sheets (1973-1980).
Due to the Covid shut-down at the Library and other municipal buildings commencing on the afternoon of March 12, 2020, statistics on the public use of the Archives were only gathered for 32 weeks. I had taken two weeks of vacation at Christmas time 2019, while the Library was closed the week of August 26-29, 2019, due to a sprinkler head failing with much water damage to the first floor. Luckily last fiscal year we had changed our Archive fire suppression system from sprinkler heads to a non-aqueous gas system. The water damage to the Library was extensive, with carpets needing removal, etc. The two weeks from October 7-18, 2019, the Library was closed for these needed repairs, and to make some changes to the physical layout of the first floor to better serve patrons. During the 32 weeks that the Archives was open, I recorded 360 patron visits to the Archives, and logged answering 295 telephone calls. Four hundred and ten letters and emails were sent out answering patron requests.
During those weeks, I also gave talks and presentations either here in the Archives or outside the building to several groups. In October 2019 Library Director Alex Lent, Head of Community and Outreach Services Rachel Alexander, and I spoke to members of the Town of Danvers Citizens’ Academy at Town Hall.
Jonathan Prescott of the Maple Street Congregational Church 175th Anniversary Committee spent a good amount of time in 2019 in the Archives researching the church history for their anniversary events. In early December 2019, I attended and spoke at the Church Anniversary Banquet. Besides having a great meal, I was presented with a check of $150 which I requested be given to the Archives. In a letter sent me by Mr. Prescott, he wrote, “Since at least a 1974 deposit of church records, the Danvers Archival Center has been an essential partner in conserving our church history. Your work as Town Archivist continues to be a critical part of our partnership and we look forward to working with you more in the future. We are most grateful for all of your dedicated work. Thank you again for helping to make our anniversary year and banquet celebration a complete success.”
Several times during the summer and fall of 2019 I met and consulted with a group of artists creating a new dramatic work on the Salem witchcraft events. The resulting play, Saltonstall’s Trial, is the original work of two local authors, based on the true story of one of the witchcraft justices who had trouble with the original procedures of the trials themselves, and soon after resigned from the proceedings. Written by Michael Cormier and Myriam Cyr, the play examines courage, love, and family during a profound regional crisis of the witchcraft events of 1692. The play premiered October 17, 2019, at the beautifully restored Larcom Theatre in Beverly to positive reviews, and continued there for ten performances. I was asked to participate in a “post show conversation” with the audience on Sunday, October 20, along with John Archer. My daughter Elizabeth attended the play with me, and the post-production audience was very receptive and engaged.
During 2019 and early 2020 a group of local people interested in the keeping of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in the City of Salem communicated with each other, the museum, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. Through the efforts of former congressman Michael Harrington, we eventually met with Healey and her staff, the Mayor of Salem, Salem’s State Representative, and others at the Hawthorne Hotel to discuss the situation and a potential legal action to keep the 19th century library at Salem. I was quite impressed with Ms. Healey. Soon after there was a change in the PEM directorship, and on February 4, 2020, Mike Harrington and I had a very productive meeting with the new museum director, Brian P. Kennedy, to discuss the future direction of the Museum, and give our opinions on aspects of the museum in Salem and the Phillips Library.
In May 2020 Salem State University professor Emerson (Tad) Baker and I were contacted by PEM Curator Dean Lahikainen and Head Librarian Dan Lipcan requesting us to assist the museum in a special September 2020 limited-time exhibit, Salem Witchcraft Trial 1692, utilizing items and documents specifically owned by the museum and library.
Though the Archival Center does not collect objects, exceptions to this policy are items relating to the Peabody Institute Library, George Peabody and John Greenleaf Whittier, usually of a souvenir nature. This year we purchased through eBay a white porcelain commemorative transferware vase featuring the Library (ca. 1890s), as well as a 6½” alabaster hand carved bust of Whittier (ca 1900).
In the early fall of 2019 the main floor of the library was redesigned with the changing of location of the main charge desk and reconfiguration of the foyer spaces, office, and audio collections. I had mentioned to Alex that the large, black, 2800 pound 19th century Boston based Remington & Sherman Safe, a part of the Library since the turn of the century, should be preserved, even if moved. Whatever transpired in the interim, I was told by staff on Monday October 20 that the safe had been carted away sometime about October 18 by the DPW, and was being sent to a scrap dealer on the Cape. I immediately contacted Alex indicating that this was a major mistake; the safe is significant to Library history, and an important artifact. Alex contacted the DPW who then contacted the junk yard in Carver. I suspect that others saw the safe’s significance and value, and did not treat it as discarded junk.
Alex and I met with Library President Mike Hagan and Trustee Natalie Fiore about this, and I volunteered that if they approved, I would absorb the expense in my Archive budget of it being returned, and placed somewhere in the Archives, though I knew not what I would do with it. All agreed, and happily the safe was not damaged, save for some paint chipping. The double doors and mechanism still worked. Cost for saving the safe was $475 for transport from Carver, MA back to Danvers, and $895 for Hayden Lock to move the behemoth from the front of the library into the Children’s Room entrance, and placed without damage to doorways, walls, and carpet into the Archive Reference Room. The safe measures 69¼” tall, 45” wide, and 26⅝” deep. I took a Magic Marker to color in the dings, and await an inspired purpose for its use.
Peter Mirandi, the Town’s Board of Health Director, and Veterans’ Agent, retired in early 2020. Always a supporter of the Archival Center, Peter presented us with a large amount of Danvers materials from his office. This included a 55” x 34” double sided Town of Danvers white flag with the Town Seal in blue and gold fringe around the sides. I will eventually find a pole and stand to display this flag. Also given were a framed collage honoring the Town of Danvers donation to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.; six Governor’s Proclamations for Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day (2012-2016); 7 metal Cemetery Memorial Marker flag holders including for Danvers Police, U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars, and National Auxiliary United Spanish War Veterans; and a sample 24” x 12” bronze grave marker for Nathaniel Pope, Revolutionary War veteran. Many of these markers had been procured years ago by Veterans’ Agent Perley Roderick for placement on Revolutionary War graves. Mirandi also wanted to preserve from his storage bin in Town Hall a Cold War era Civil Defense First Aid field kit, and a cold war era Geiger counter, which two objects were outside our collection policy, and we found a home for them at the Danvers Historical Society.
During the early 2019 fiscal year we cooperated with a television production company doing a program on the witchcraft events. Morning Star Entertainment of Burbank California, had created a series called “Mysteries Decoded.” They came to Danvers for filming at the Nurse Homestead, Essex Agricultural School, the Parsonage Archaeological Site, and on the streets of Danvers. They visited the Library and Archives for an interview with me featuring the early 18th century manuscript confession of Ann Putnam following the witchcraft events. The program was first broadcast on the CW Television Network September 24, 2019, with a great drone view of the Library, and interior shots of the first floor and Archives.
Our Archival Center website, www.danverslibrary.org/archive, continues to be quite popular and frequently used by researchers. Thanks to Jim Riordan, our FY2019 Annual Report was added to the site, as was the one hour video program produced by Danvers Community Cable on the 2020 Danvers Virtual “Memorial Day Program.” We also added the 1895 book on Danvers Soldiers and Sailors to our collection of “Danvers History eBooks.”
Statistics showed that in March 2020 the Archival Center website was visited on average 90.6 times a day, while a sampling of foreign visitors included people from Portugal, South Africa, Japan, Belarus, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. One very kind email came in November from photographer and writer Catherine Kirkpatrick writing: “I worked on the archives of a very small group called Professional Women Photographers that was acquired by Emory University. Somehow I stumbled across your site. I absolutely love what you have done with the photographs, taking each one and developing the story and history behind it. It is so compelling and well done, and I was very inspired by it. Just thought I would say so.”
I continue to serve as a Commissioner in the Essex County National Heritage Area as Danvers Town Archivist. I also serve as a member of the Town of Danvers Salem Village Historic District Commission, which typically meets in the Archival Center for public meetings, though during the Covid closing we met via ZOOM, as did the Library Staff Meetings once a week. I also act as a resource person for the Danvers Preservation Commission.
As Town Archivist, I continue to serve as a resource for citizens and town agencies needing historic or background information. Among town departments requesting assistance this past fiscal year were the Town Manager, Town Clerk, Department of Public Works, Planning Department, Building Inspector, School Department, Historic District Commission, and Preservation Commission. Several local churches requested checking with their records on deposit here at the Archives, while at least once or twice a week the Danvers Historical Society asks reference questions, or refers someone who has contacted them for us to take care of their request.
Least favorite of my tasks as Archivist is assisting the Danvers Preservation Commission with the Danvers Demolition Delay By-Law. Each year the Town receives requests for demolition of buildings, and any structure built before 1915 must go through a public hearing process to determine if the building is historically or architecturally significant. If it is so declared by the Commission, a one year delay is put upon the building to see if some solution can be put together to preserve it. During the Library closure I researched and gave a report to the Preservation Commission on 5 structures for which a demolition certificate had been requested.
Our Archive Special Fund was established in order to have money available in case important but expensive items came to our attention and would overwhelm our regular budget. This year the Archival Center brought in reference and certified copy fees amounting to $30, while our Historic House Marker Program included 2 new signs we researched, bringing in $90. Among other income for the fund was a donation of $150 from the Maple Street Congregational Church for an Anniversary talk I gave to the Church.
Our very successful House Marker Program began back in 1975 when I obtained the Danvers Preservation Commission’s sponsorship of the program in which, upon the request of a homeowner, I would research the house date and have a sign created. In 1999 the Archival Center took over the entire project. Hundreds of markers for Danvers dwellings and businesses have been ordered, researched, and produced, the signs being created by talented artist Robert Leonard of Providence, R.I. They measure 12” x 18” and include the name of the first occupant, his or her occupation, and the date of construction. I also usually include a brief written description to the home owner of the house history and its construction. Two signs were ordered before Covid struck, they being an 1865 house on Otis Street and an 1895 dwelling on Chester Street.
Among supplies for the Archives, I purchased a plastic chair mat for under my desk, and a new desk pad for the top of my thin steel desk originally purchased in 1972 for $130, and now practically an antique. We replenished our stock of permalife bond paper for preservation copying, and purchased several sizes of Mylar and polyester sleeves to store manuscripts and fragile photographs, as well as some pre-made encapsulation units, and Hollinger acid-free boxes and file folders. We also needed to replenish our buff letterhead and second sheet stationary from Minuteman Press.
In August 2020, after the beginning of the next fiscal year, I wrote a memo to Library Director Alex Lent outlining tasks, etc. performed since the Covid outbreak. Included here are remarks centered on tasks from March to July 2020:
From closing in March till the end of July, I received over 140 research requests from the public and from Town agencies. About 60% of patron requests were from out-of-towners, while 40% were from residents. I was able to answer from home off the top of my head about 2/3rds of the questions.
As Archivist I also participated in the Danvers commemoration plans for Patriots’ Day in April, and was part of a town and veteran committee which organized a “Virtual” Memorial Day program, doing a 25 minute pre-taped presentation at Town Hall during the very successful DCAT cable television multi-telecast, which was melded with other segments. Upon my request, I received several preservation DVD copies of the entire program, which program we can include on our Archive website, if you wish.
My presentation briefly covered the 1918 Spanish Flu, the present pandemic, and mostly a review of the Danvers commemoration of Memorial Day from 1867 till present. Here follows the first two pages of my presentation:
Thank you for viewing and participating in our unusual Danvers, Massachusetts 2020 Memorial Day Observances. I have been asked to reflect upon the celebration of Memorial Day in Danvers, which has been an unbroken commemoration since the end of the American Civil War. This year is different, however. As you all know, we are not able to gather together as a community. Our country and the world itself are currently within the throes of a world-wide pandemic, the likes of which most of us have never experienced. This year our annual Memorial Day Parade, typically watched and participated in by thousands, as well as the Town Hall commemoration which follows, cannot be publically held. Yet, commemorate we will.
These are challenging times in which we must be separated from one-another to prevent the spread of the contagion, while awaiting scientists the world over attempting to find an antidote to counter this scourge.
Physically separate from family, friends, and humanity, we woefully understand what we have temporarily lost in human contact. Yet because of current wondrous technology, including print, phones and smart phones, radio, TV, cable, and computers, we are in a sense more connected to one-another and closer as a community of people than ever before.
We acknowledge and appreciate our ever-present reliance on what we now call our “First Responders” – the police, fire, medical people, DPW, and others who often go into harm’s way to assist their fellow man. And now we also acknowledge and appreciate the average citizens who without fanfare serve us all during this current emergency for our sustenance and even our survival. This is a time when many average citizens have become heroic in their assisting of us all. Thanks to the postal and delivery people, the restauranteurs, food preparers and workers; nursing home, veterans, and elderly community staff; the clergy and religious; grocers, stock people and deliverers; the scientists, teachers, enlightened governmental workers, and elected officials; the workers in businesses of social necessity including banks, gas stations, communications, etc.; food pantry donors and workers; those who donate money and supplies to the needy; those staff workers who keep our medical facilities open and clean; and those who continue to contact by phone or media those among us who are alone and sad in spirit. Thanks to all those who labor for their fellow humans.
Yes, this is a difficult time, but with clear thinking, patience, bravery, and assisting one-another we will get through it, like others in the past have gone through their own times of trouble.
Over one hundred years ago our community, our country, and the world went through another vicious pandemic, the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 to 1920. This virulent disease occurred during the awful First World War, resulting in the world wide deaths of an estimated 17 to 25 million souls. Within the United States, with a population of 105 million, somewhere between 500,000 and 850,000 people died.
It was in the fall of 1918 that the second and most deadly phase of the influenza epidemic hit the United States. In late September the epidemic began to be felt very hard in Danvers, so that by September 27, 300 cases had been reported. Though not declaring the disease as a disaster situation, the Board of Health did request the closing of the schools, picture houses, and public gatherings of any kind. By October 1, the cases of the flu had risen to 665. Automobiles were requested for use by those caring for flu patients. On October 3, 118 new cases were reported and the Board of Health issued orders that funerals within the town be private and attended only by family of the deceased.
On October 5 an emergency hospital was opened in Danvers, but by November 12 the epidemic had dramatically subsided after causing the deaths of about 50 Danvers citizens, many of them Greek and Polish from the Port section of town.
So today, in 2020, let us all be vigilant, brave, and remain safe.
With Alex’s and Town Hall’s permission I visited the Archives for about 2 hours to check it out safety-wise in April, and brought home some work I could do, besides email requests. Once I gained access to the Archives I was able to research and do reports on 5 structures for the Preservation Commission and the Building Inspector as regards the Danvers Demolition Delay By-Law. Thanks to the Planning Department, they provided me with locus maps and photographs. This process often takes a number of hours per dwelling, and is necessary for Public Hearings.
Beginning in late June, 2020, I was able to work in the Archives every other week. With the very welcome and important assistance of Julie Silk who worked two days every other week, we were able to be research the backlog of about 50 emails and send information and scans, or snail mail answers to patrons. Some of these were answered almost three months after they were sent to us. Many of these people responded by saying they very much appreciated our answering when they thought we would never respond to such old requests. Unfortunately for our limited research times, a number of responders asked follow-up questions! And all during this time we are being sent new requests for information by new requestors, and have been attempting to answer those as quickly as possible.
We were able to also get back to some tasks left in the air from March. We have accessioned, catalogued, and processed a large group of donations from the Veterans’ Department, and a Samuel Holten court manuscript that I purchased at a virtual auction during my at-home stay has been fully processed. We are still working on a multi-hundred item gift given just several days before we closed down.
We have also been filing dozens of new ephemera items. Once back in the Archives I have used my laser jet printer extensively copying from the internet a new 40 page historic article on the restored Governor John Endecott ca 1665 portrait at the Massachusetts State House, and copying an important and well-illustrated 100+ page Environmental Protection Agency report on the Danversport area, and the former Creese & Cook Leather Factory complex. I have made hard copies of all Library and Town Hall emails sent to staff relating to the Covid pandemic for the historic record, and have also brought home smaller manuscript collections that I can process and catalogue on my off-Archive Center time.
Jen and Alex, as always, have been very helpful with my Archive and personal questions and concerns during this time. Julie has been a great worker making the process of getting the Archives back up to speed very successful. I am grateful for Alex and Jen’s Library leadership, and Town Hall’s caution for staff health during this pandemic.
Thus ended on June 30, 2020, one of the strangest of my 48 years as Town Archivist.
Richard B. Trask