Friday, December 28, 2012

Cowper's Poems

Among the old books inherited from Pine Knoll are two small volumes of poems by British poet William Cowper. This two-volume set was printed in 1803. That's almost 210 years old!

Curious to learn more about this publication and its author, I did some online searching last night. I discovered that the New York Public Library's copy of this same edition has been digitized and is freely available via Google Books. (Click on the image here to access it.)

I also learned that many editions of Cowper's poems have recently been offered for sale via the eBay auction site, and very few have sold, even though the asking prices were low ($28, $35, $9.99, etc.) and the bindings looked in MUCH better condition than my worn set. Mine might be worth $10 or less, given its poor condition with many brown stains (e.g., "foxing") on the pages. I now feel free to handle the books, read the poems, and show them to others, such as the writers in our weekly Fun with Writing group.

The fun and value, for me, in these volumes are the clues about family ancestors. I found "Joshua H. Ward, Cambridge, MA 1820?" handwritten on a front page and "No. 7 Walnut St, 1820?" on a second blank page. In very tiny penmanship "Harvard University" was written inside the front cover of volume 1. In volume 2 "Joshua Ward" is penned over a previous name that had been partially erased. Re-examining volume 1, I also see evidence of an erased address, and the name "Anna."  I'll leave these puzzles for another day.

See Wikipedia's article on William Cooper for background about the author's life and influence.  He lived from 1731 to 1800. His book "Poems" was first published in 1782.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shelf space

For Christmas this year my husband Ken and I gave each other shelf space. We ordered a tall narrow bookcase to fit in a corner of our living room, in a nook of space once occupied by a steam radiator. Some years ago we had thought of building a bookcase there, but hadn't followed through on the idea. Now we have a lovely Amish-built bookcase and the fun of deciding what to put on these new shelves.

My office upstairs for years has been crammed with file cabinets, computer table and desk (all cluttered with paper), and a wall of built-in shelves filled with books, photo albums, music CDs, and notebooks relating to various projects. Too much stuff! Too many on-going projects!  How will I ever find space to accommodate the Pine Knoll family history project that my cousin Janet wishes to pass to me? That thought has been on my mind constantly since Thanksgiving. (See my previous posts: "Old treasures" and "Love letters"). I want to accept her offer, but questions of where to put her books and files have prompted me to look critically at my bookshelves. The DANVERS section on that wall will have to expand. Or, I will need to find another place for the Pine Knoll files. For a while I considered a table in the "yellow room" (a wide hallway near laundry and bathroom) or the shelves above that, but roof leaks there have sometimes spoiled what I leave on that table.

The anticipated arrival of a beautiful new bookcase prompted us to take a fresh look at EVERYTHING we store on shelves in this house, where we've lived for 17 years. An entire revolution of our accumulated stuff is in progress! What merits display in the new case?  What has served its purpose and could be given away or tossed?  I was happy to discover that several shelves full of accumulated magazines --which I'd wanted to keep permanently-- are now accessible on DVD or online. I've had fun donating some physical magazines to a local literacy program, which was delighted to accept them. Each shelf that I empty spurs me on. I've discovered a much better place to store our photo albums (which no longer need room for expansion, thanks to our switch in 2004 to digital photo storage). In the attic Ken found extra boards (shelves) belonging to an older bookcase in the living room, allowing us to insert extra shelves closely spaced -- just right for our music CDs, which had previously been scattered in various locations.

By now we have filled the bottom of the new bookcase with children's books and board games. We're still experimenting with what to put on the top shelves.  EMPTY shelves are visible now in several rooms, and the piles of books to be reshelved are dwindling. I rejoice at this progress!

In my office, I've begun re-arranging the books so that all the Danvers-related items (mine plus what I'll receive from Janet) can be together in one tall (floor to ceiling), narrow (20" width) section of shelving.

I found a stepladder and began to tackle the highest shelves, including long-neglected, dusty old volumes inherited from my father's family.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but ... ?

Oh!  A book published in 1852!

A shelf of 19th century books with old family names written inside 
-- very similar to the classic found recently in California. 

Another surprising find, right in my own house! Undoubtedly these all came from Pine Knoll in Danvers. I'll write more about these old books in a future post.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Love letters

For this month's column I've written a piece called Accidental discoveries and unexpected finds. In it, I include a long quote from my cousin Janet Derouin's history of Pine Knoll, the home in Danvers built by our great-grandfather Andrew Nichols. The home existed from 1861 to 1975, when it succumbed to arson.  One day in the Pine Knoll attic, after the great aunts had died and no family members lived there anymore, Janet made a discovery.
  "    Several months before the fire I was in the cavernous attic helping my father, who was one of the heirs, choose a blanket chest as his part of the division of household goods. It was to be sent to my brother in California, and I felt sorry that he and his wife weren’t with us to choose for themselves. As we started to leave, having made our selection, I noticed a cardboard candy box of undetermined age, with STANLEY neatly printed on the top in letters large enough to catch my eye.
            Since Stanley was the middle name of my grandfather, William Stanley Nichols, as well as my California brother, William Stanley Nichols II, my father and I decided to look inside. I brushed years of dust off the top and untied the inevitable piece of string, only to discover it was full of folded letters in little packets, each one tied with a bit of ribbon.  … I examined the various bundles and realized the letters were just as they had been originally put away, and I about to be the first, since that time, to slip off the ribbons and read them!
            To my great surprise I discovered they must have been put in the box over one hundred years before, the bulk of them written by my great-grandfather to his future wife, Elizabeth Perkins Stanley, during their courtship days. She was his beloved Lizzie for whom he had built the cottage he named “Pine Knoll” where I had found them.  The last one was written on the eve of his wedding day [1861].
            As I read her precious old letters I found that Andrew made frequent references to things Lizzie had written in her letters to him, which I then had a consuming desire to find.
            During the months that followed, my aunt, Janet Cutler Nichols, and I moved hundreds of old papers and letters from the Pine Knoll library to her home nearby, for safe keeping and sorting. During the long hours that we read and sorted materials to be donated to the Essex Institute, and other suitable repositories, I constantly hoped to find the other half of my treasure. … All hope reluctantly died away when every paper and letter had been rough sorted and the house itself was gone, whatever treasures remaining inside its walls, now nothing but ashes.
            In the year after the fire, Janet and I continued to work at least one day a week, getting the letters and documents into proper order for donation. It was a tedious, exacting job and at the end of one of those days I was tidying up when a leather folder slipped from my hands, spilling a number of ancient deeds all over the floor. When the folder landed it came to rest inside out. As I gingerly picked it up, lamenting my “butter fingers,” I saw that it had a pocket on either side, and they met in such a way as to be invisible, unless the folder was turned back on itself, as it had become in the fall.
            I reached into one of the pockets and pulled out a copy book. It was filled with copies of Andrew’s courting letters in Lizzie’s candy box. They were written in pencil by the same hand and numbered in the order they were sent. Stunned by this discovery, I reached into the other pocket, afraid to hope for what I wanted to find. It contained Lizzie’s letters to him!  I had had them all the time!
            At that moment came my determination to sort and type the letters and diaries still in existence that tell the story of Pine Knoll so it might be enjoyed by the generations to come.”

Janet Derouin did type those letters and spent many years researching family history and writing down family stories, but her project has not been published. Nor is it finished. She did finish the part about Lizzie and Andrew's four-year courtship and why it had to be so secretive. (Family opposition...)  In spite of the obstacles, Andrew married Lizzie in 1861 and brought her to Danvers, where they raised eight children and continued to love each other for 61 years!

Janet, now 83, wants to pass this project and all its associated files (paper and computer) to me for safe keeping and, perhaps, continuation or publication in some form. I am pondering options. I agree with Janet that this special love story should be shared.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Uncle Tom's Cabin,1852

An 1852 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, originally owned by my great great grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth (Hunt) Stanley, was recently shown to me. (See previous post.) I'm trying to imagine what this book meant to Mrs. Stanley or others in the family at that time. Did they read it? What did they think of it?  What had been their experience with the institution of slavery? Were they active as abolitionists?  

Before I begin digging into family history in an attempt to answer any of those questions, I have been learning more about the book itself, which I'm now reading for the first time. I am really enjoying the writing. I'm glad I didn't have to read this in school (as so many people did); I'm sure I wouldn't have appreciated it so much then. The descriptions of society and politicians and family relations all mean so much more when you have lived many decades, as I have now.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a controversial and very influential book in the 19th century. It was a "sensation" according to Alfred Kazin (Introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1974): "on publication day in 1852 it sold 3,000; within the year there were 120 editions, 300,000 copies..."   It became the first American novel to sell more than one million copies. It has been translated into many, many other langages.

I wonder how many other copies from 1852 have been preserved?  I note that the TEXT from the original edition was reproduced in the Everyman's Library edition which I've borrowed from my public library. I also have a version of it on my Kindle, which is convenient to carry as I travel. I don't feel any need to own the fragile original edition. That is a special treasure, but I'm more interested in the ideas within and influence beyond that particular physical artifact.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Old treasures

On Thursday November 15, 2012, a California man named Thomas Kaska walked into Yesterday's Books, a bookstore in Modesto, CA, and purchased a two-volume set of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852.  He was delighted at last to acquire this valuable first edition, which he'd spotted there some years before (when the price had been too high).  As a schoolboy he had once written a paper about Harriet Beecher Stowe, and his father's second wife was a descendent of Harriet Beecher Stowe, so he had long been interested in that author.

Inside the books he found various newspaper clippings now fragile and darkened with age. He noted that the volumes had once belonged to "E. Stanley, Salem, MA" and became curious about the original owner. Some of the clippings mentioned Nichols relatives in Danvers. Thomas searched on the internet, found this blog, and sent me an email that included this surprising information:
"I have a news clipping of a Miss Mary Ellen Stanley. She was born July 14,1839 and died just short of 100 years old by a few months. Apparently she was a school teacher for over 55 years until a new law forced her to retire. The obituary... said she was survived by two nieces a Mary and Margaret Nichols, and two nephews a Dr. John H. Nichols and Rev. William Nichols. Through Google I found you and hope you recognize these people.  Looks like from your blog you also enjoy history and retelling of memories past..."
Thomas asked whether I might be a descendant, or if not, whether I could help him find descendants to whom he could give these clippings.

Well!  What a surprise!  I wrote back, "Yes, I recognize the Stanley name and her nieces and nephews.  Rev. William Stanley Nichols was my grandfather. Coincidently I'm in CA this week for Thanksgiving with my daughter and 2 grandsons. I would be interested in reading those newspaper clippings. Thanks for your offer."  Within days I had met Thomas and acquired the clippings. I also took some photos of the books to share with other family members.

Mrs. E. Stanley, Salem, MA
Note the chemical transfer from the acidic newspaper clipping and the ink on opposing page (see below)
This 1908 clipping (about book prices) is glued into the book.
Undated newspaper clipping, probably 1938.

Undated clipping, probably late April or early May1938.  Click here for larger PDF.
"passed away yesterday at 20 Andrew St, where she had resided for 96 years." "She was 99 years, nine months and 18 days old." "Born in Salem July 14, 1839..."  
Since the discovery of these clippings and the old books, I have begun to learn more about the Stanleys. I'm interviewing various family members and collecting stories. I have also begun to READ Uncle Tom's Cabin, a classic piece of American literature that I had never read. The night before meeting with Mr. Kaska, I downloaded a free copy onto my Kindle and read the first chapter. At his house we compared the text of the first page of the first chapter, and they matched. By now I have read hundreds of pages and am caught up in the action of this remarkable book.  

Original edition and Kindle edition, compared!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Parlor at Pine Knoll

This photograph of the parlor at Pine Knoll, the Nichols family home at 98 Preston Street, Danvers, MA, was taken in the late 1960's, but looks remarkably like images taken in the 1890's. The parlor, as  the most formal room in the house, was used only on special occasions. Very little changed in this room over the decades.  Click on the photo to see a larger, clearer image.

Julie Snow, a young photographer from New York City, took this photo. She became entranced by this old home when she visited it and asked permission to set up special lights and take photographs. Permission was given, but none of us thought about the amount of electricity needed to run those bright lights, which soon blew fuses!  Nevertheless she took some special photographs that we now treasure.

This month I have written about some of my experiences in the Pine Knoll parlor. See my Danvers Herald column, The Parlor at Pine Knoll.

Through the door on the left you can see the library, which was filled with books that had belonged to my great-grandfather Andrew Nichols, civil engineer. He built the first part of this home in 1861, and in 1880 added this wing that included the parlor and library. A friend of his came for a house tour in 1881 and wrote an article titled The Nichols Museum describing this home.

The Pine Knoll house survived until 1975 when arsons set it on fire and destroyed this piece of Danvers history. It is a shame that so many antiques perished. Fortunately, the library collection had already been moved out of the house; it was donated to Harvard University.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Happy Halloween!
   I hope Hurricane Sandy (no relation to me) didn't scare you, wreck your neighborhood, or leave you without power for very long.  Here in western Massachusetts the storm brought wind and rain, but not much damage. Our home lost power for only about an hour on Monday afternoon. Nevertheless, to be safe, our Mayor recommended that Halloween trick-or-treating be postponed until Saturday.
   This evening I will be participating in the Rag Shag Parade, a Halloween tradition in a neighboring community.  I play percussion in The Expandable Brass Band, and will wear one of my recent Halloween costumes.
    As a kid in Danvers I sometimes had trouble thinking up costumes ideas, and I was quite shy about dressing up or acting out.  Now in retirement I'm having a wonderful time prancing about costumes and marching in the street with this lively band of 15-20 musicians.  Fun!

    Recently a friend asked me for one of the Halloween stories I'd written about my father.  Hmm...  how to find it... that was a few years back (and linked in this blog). Aha!  I realized that I ought to have a SEARCH BOX on this blog. So this morning I figured out how to add one.  Try it!  Search for Halloween.  You'll find the stories I wrote in 2007 and 2008.  Have fun!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30

Today I finished writing my next Remembering Danvers column, which will be published in November.  In it I describe, among other things, a family funeral I attended.

Coincidently, today (October 30) is designated as "Create a Great Funeral Day."  This event was created by Stephanie West Allen in 2000:
"The Day was founded with the hopes of getting loved ones to sit down together and talk about what they would want at their funeral so their loved ones know when the time comes and do not have to juggle their grief with trying to plan a funeral and guess what they would have wanted, even if it is just so much as a particular song played at the funeral, or words for the headstone." 
My great aunt had known what she wanted and had written down her instructions for the family to follow. A good idea. I remember being impressed at the time (1966) that she had planned ahead. I don't know how many years ahead, but I'm glad she did it while she could still communicate. She lived to the ripe old age of 96 years.

More information about Create a Great Funeral Day has been posted by Gail Rubin, author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don't Plan to Die, on her Family Plot blog.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Autumn leaves

Recently I enjoyed showing an out-of town guest around. She had never experienced a New England fall and was excited to be here in October.  On a beautiful sunny afternoon we strolled beneath brilliant trees in a local cemetery and marveled at the colors.

Looking down, I noticed leaves of varying colors and instantly thought of the multicolored leaves from maple trees by the old barn in Danvers. I was transported back to childhood and the happy time spent collecting those uniquely-colored varieties.

Today I saw men loading a dump truck with raked-up leaves. One man jumped up and down on the pile in the truck while two others lifted piles of leaves to add to those in the truck.  I smiled at them as I bicycled by. The man on the truck grinned as he called out, "You want to come and play, too?" I was tempted, but instead just laughed and rang the bell on my handlebars. These piles of bright leaves bring us back to the simple joys of childhood!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tuffy at the Fair

My recent column on Childhood memories of the Topsfield Fair included a description of the Mutt race that was almost won by Tuffy.

Tuffy, a loveable mixture of French Poodle and German Shepherd, belonged to my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin and her family. They lived next door to us in Granddaddy's house. Tuffy was a good companion to the young Derouin boys, Chad and Monty.

The Derouins entered Tuffy into the Mutt Derby at the Topsfield Fair.  He had long legs and ran well, easily outpacing most of the other dogs.  He was likely to be the winner, Janet says, but another dog attacked him from the rear, nipping Tuffy's back legs repeatedly. To escape this problem, Tuffy jumped over the inner fence and ran across the center of the race ring. The crowd went wild cheering for Tuffy, but Tuffy was of course disqualified from that race. I clearly remember the crowd cheering as Tuffy jumped the fence and crossed the middle section, but I hadn't seen the attack on Tuffy's legs, so I thought he was just taking a clever shortcut to reach the mechanical rabbit. Not so, says my cousin. Tuffy was simply escaping a dog fight.  Anyway, the crowd loved the excitement of the Mutt Derby.

Dog fights and unpredictable behavior were common at the Mutt Derby. I just found (via Google Books) a 1953 Life magazine article, "Life goes to a Mutt Derby":
 At the Annual Mutt Derby, part of the Topsfield fair, 34 mongrels gathered on the track where greyhounds ran weekday nights. ...
Look at the photos!  Life magazine October 5, 1953, page 156.   Tuffy wasn't there that year, but you'll get a good idea of the scene and the chaos that can ensue when family pets are entered in a race.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Topsfield Fair

I've written this month about the Topsfield Fair. My family often attended the fair, and I have many good memories of experiences there. The 2012 Topsfield Fair runs 'til October 8 -- if you are nearby, go!

My cousin Janet Nichols Derouin called Monday to talk about the fair. She was responding to a draft of the column that I had emailed her.  We laughed together recalling the antics of her dog, Tuffy, who had almost won the Mutt Race one year. I think Tuffy deserves to be the subject of a future column. Tuffy and the Derouins lived in Granddaddy's house next door to us for some years in the 1950's before they bought a home on Durkee Circle.

Janet surprised me with a bit of family history. Did I know that one of our ancestors helped to start that fair?  Dr. Andrew Nichols, father of the Andrew Nichols who built Pine Knoll in 1861, was one of about six men who worked together on a committee at the beginning of the Topsfield Fair!  I hadn't heard that story before. (There are seven generations of Andrew Nichols -- a long tradition of naming the first son Andrew-- so sorting out which Andrew did what can be quite a challenge as we look back on history.)

Today I looked at the history page on the Fair's website.  It begins, "The colorful and often exciting history of Topsfield Fair began in 1818 when the Essex Agricultural Society, the non-profit organization that owns the Topsfield Fair, was officially granted a charter on June 12th of that year. The goal of the fledgling Society, formed by a group of "practical farmers" who first met on February 16, 1818, was "to promote and improve the agricultural interests of farmers and others in Essex County."

Reading further, I learned that the Topsfield Fair didn't settle into its present location until 1910. "What began as the Essex Agricultural Society Cattle Show with its annual exhibits/fairs held in various sites around Essex County to showcase agriculture, Topsfield Fair has been held annually at its existing location since 1910. It is fitting that the fair eventually settled in Topsfield, for it was at the town's former Cyrus Cummings Tavern that twenty or more men first gathered that February in 1818 to form what soon became the Essex Agricultural Society."

Was my ancestor at that Tavern in 1818?  Not according to the list of names in "An Act to incorporate the Essex Agricultural Society" found via the state archives website today. [I see two other Nichols listed, Ichabod and Benjamin, but I've never heard of those names in our family tree.]  I don't have much time today to investigate further. A quick search via Google confirms that Andrew Nichols (1785-1853) did give advice in the area in that time period.  His 1819 remarks about temperance were published in a 28-page pamphlet now owned by several libraries:

  • Address delivered in the South Meeting House in Danvers [microform] : Before the Society, in that town, for Suppressing Intemperance and Other Vices, and for Promoting Temperance and General Morality, April 27, 1819 / by Andrew Nichols.

As a child I did hear elders say that I came from a long line of teetotalers. I can imagine that Dr. Nichols, a medical doctor, may have lobbied to keep alcohol out of the agricultural shows.  Or, he may have participated in other aspects of the Essex Agricultural Society...   That thought led me to a second Google search for the history of the Society.  Its Transactions are online and searchable!  The name Andrew Nichols appears repeatedly: on a committee examining tree plantations..., winner of a premium of $10..., elected Treasurer in October 1829,  on committee related to examining animals competing for premiums in 1830. There is mention of "...cattle owned by Dr. Nichols of Danvers..." Clearly he was involved on many levels.

Perhaps some reader of this blog will be able to tell more about the history of the Topsfield Fair or about roles Andrew Nichols played. [Comments can be added to my blog entries at any time;  I'll receive notification by email. Comments are public for all to see. If you prefer to contact me privately, send email via the contact form on this blog. Thanks!]

Monday, September 17, 2012


Each month, after I compose and submit my Remembering Danvers column to the Danvers Herald editor, I intend to add to this blog a link to the published version.  I try to remember to watch for it online, but my days are full with other projects and the weeks go by...    Today I took a moment to catch up and search for columns that I had not yet linked.

 The pleasures of singing with friends was published online Aug 6, 2012.

 The practical birthday gift was published on Sept 7, 2012.

I know that there are still some unlinked columns from last spring and early summer.  I haven't been able to find them online and suspect that they were never posted (or were not put in the usual place to display under "Columnists"). I was told by the previous editor that those columns appeared in print. I don't expect the new editor would have time to find and upload those older columns.  I do, of course, have my original text as submitted, so could upload a pdf copy to share.  I prefer, however, to link to the version that was published.  Until I see it online, I'm not sure what title the editor chose.

If you wish to see a column that you missed, let me know.  I know that some links to older columns no longer work. (Changes over the years on the Danvers Herald website have sometimes "broken" earlier links.)  I've fixed many of them.  Please let me know if you encounter a non-working link. Thanks!

It is my intention to have this blog function as an index to all my Remembering Danvers columns.  I realize, however, that the organization of the blog -- chronological, as I wrote them -- may not have meaning to anyone except me.  Perhaps someday I should create a topical index, or stop blogging and consider creation of a book of selected columns.  For today, I'm happy just to add these new links.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sewing Machine

This week I pulled out my sewing machine and began to make a pair of curtains. As I sewed, I remembered the arrival of this fancy machine into our home in Danvers years ago. It was such a wonderful upgrade from our old black Singer machine!

The curtain project was delayed as I stopped to write about my memory of this practical gift. I am submitting my next column on this subject. It was a birthday gift to me, but with the clear understanding that it was for the whole family to use until I grew older, married, and moved away from home. I was 16 at the time. When I married at 21, I think my parents were a bit chagrinned to lose the sewing machine so soon. I did make good use of it over the years, and it still runs.

Update:  My column titled The practical birthday gift was published on Sept 7, 2012.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

1945 photos

I've posted these photos to accompany my previous post about song fests and this month's column about the fun of singing with groups of friends.  Dick and Beth Best, pictured here in 1945 in the yard of our Danvers home, edited and produced The NEW Song Fest (copyright 1948) a few years later.

My parents and friends relaxing after skiing on a sunny winter day, March 11, 1945.
Dick Best on guitar, his wife Beth below. My mother on right. John "Ace" Nutter, left.
[Click on photo to enlarge.] 
My mother, Janet Cutler Nichols, on right. Dick and Beth Best, center.
Note stone wall along Nichols Street behind them.

Dick Best on guitar. Nick Nichols, right. Wives and friends resting on tarp. March 11, 1945.
Note my father's ski pants, skiboots, and the Kodak camera resting in his lap;
Nick almost always carried that folding camera in the pockets of his ski pants.

I found these photos in an old family album that I had put together in 1969. I hadn't really looked at them closely at that time, other than to note the handwritten date on the back of each photo, and to put them in sequence in the album.  My parents had always kept their photos in envelopes in the lower drawer of a desk in our living room. Many became jumbled over the years as various people pawed through the piles of envelopes and pulled out ones of interest. In 1969, pregnant with my first child, I was looking for photos of me as a baby. I found piles of unlabeled, undated baby photos, which could have been me or my sister Jean.  I had to do detective work --using the film codes printed on the back of the photos-- to identify each roll of film and thereby find clues to the context. Thus I created my own "baby album" and added select photos to show scenes from my childhood.

I liked these photos because they showed my parents relaxing in our yard, leaning on Daddy's overturned sailboat and a rowboat, and they showed the familiar wooded view across Nichols Street into the Locust Lawn property (from our front yard at 120 Nichols St).  
[That end of Nichols Street is now called Conifer Hill Drive and the house site is now a parking lot.]  

Here is one more photo from that SAME day:
-- a skier schussing down one of the trails on that Danvers hill 
(on the north side, beyond the Locust Lawn fence, I think). 
Imagine that! The hill had enough snow to ski on, 
yet at home on the southwest side of that hill, 
our yard was bare and warm enough for guitar-playing outdoors! 
 Do I remember that day? No. I was too young.  Here's a photo of me a few weeks later, April 1, 1945.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


At a recent music festival, with many highly-amplified professional performers, I was most impressed by a quieter, more spontaneous group singing old songs together for fun. They were on stage, and amplified, and included several professional musicians, but they allowed young children --even a 4-year old grandchild-- to take turns singing silly verses, and they all obviously loved singing together.  They stopped and laughed and re-started songs in an informal give-and-take among the singers.  As I witnessed this old-fashioned song fest, I was thrilled that such traditions continue today. 

My parents and their college outing club friends (with whom they kept in contact for decades after college) loved to sing silly old songs together. Most of the tunes were simple to sing, and in fact were well-known melodies borrowed from popular patriot songs or church hymnals, but with words changed to suit the occasion. As a kid I was sometimes amazed at the nonsense that came from their months. The laughter and smiles that accompanied the singing was wonderfully infectious.  What good times we had!

In our home in Danvers, on a bookshelf in the living room, several well-worn song books were special to us. Some were old spiral-bound copies of the songbooks used in the 1930's and 1940's.  I particularly loved one with bear paw prints walking across the cover.  This series of song books were produced by and for the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association (I.O.C.A.). In the 1960's when I was in college I bought my own copy of "The NEW Song Fest:  300 songs  -- words and music ..."  edited by Dick and Beth Best.  See for more about this series of song books.  

On Sunday, while walking with my husband around our neighborhood, we encountered a porch full of adults singing songs and playing guitar, harmonica, and percussion. They invited us to join them for a while. Standing on that porch I reflected on the many different times and places I've enjoyed such informal music-making. We invited these people (mostly strangers to us) to come to our house next weekend for our annual music party with our friends.

Yesterday at the Soldier's Home in Holyoke, MA, I watched as a woman with a microphone led a small sing-along. Pretty soon she had the old soldiers mouthing the words with her. Sometimes she handed the mike to a volunteer who led an old favorite. "Take me out to the Ballgame" and "Rock Around the Clock" were sung with enthusiasm. I'm always glad to see people singing together for fun. I clapped my hands and sang along.

July 14, 2012, was the 100th birthday of folk singer Woody Guthrie. See This coming weekend three generations of Woody's descendants, The Guthrie Family Reunion, will sing together at the Newport Folk Festival. I watched them (and clapped and sang along) at the Green River Festival, Greenfield, MA, on July 14th -- a special treat!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Scenes in a recent movie evoked memories of childhood games and pastimes. Three young boys sitting on a rug concentrating on a board game brought a smile to my face. When the camera zoomed in for a closeup of the board, I gasped in delight: Parcheesi!  I recognized the distinctive board immediately and recalled playing Parcheesi with my sister at our grandparents' home and at our house. There was something exotic about that board, the patterns on it, the pathways that our wooden pawns followed...  A hint of India, I think. I remember the safety spaces and the comfort of landing on one. I haven't played Parcheesi in years and no longer recall the rules, though I'm sure it would come back to me rather quickly if my sister and I sat down at an old Parcheesi board. I'd love to experience it again.

Those thoughts flashed in my mind, in the movie theater, triggered by a one-second glimpse of that classic Parcheesi board. The movie camera, meanwhile, moved on to other scenes of children playing in various rooms of a New England home. The house looked fake, clearly a series of open rooms on a studio set, but each room in turn contained delightfully nostalgic details. I wanted to linger and explore, but the camera continued on, showing me other rooms. The overall effect was stunningly reminiscent of viewing a dollhouse!  

I thought of big old wooden dollhouses furnished exquisitely with old-fashioned furniture and peopled by figures in elegant dress. The daughter of one of my mother's friends had such a dollhouse. Each room contained quaint objects that hinted of earlier times and old customs. Fancy furniture and chandeliers spoke of wealth and distinction. It was very special and fragile. "Look but don't touch!"  Even the more modern metal and plastic dollhouses at other friends' houses were not to be touched without permission. I don't recall actually playing with a doll house. Dollhouses were interesting to look at and to imagine playing with, but they weren't really for active play.  I wasn't invited in to play, to stay and rearrange things.  I could only look briefly -- just as in the movie.  A short pause to see one room, to absorb an impression of the carefully designed and decorated set, and then the camera panned to the next room. When the camera returned to the three boys on the floor, they were playing Jacks! -- another old-fashioned pastime, triggering more memories of childhoods past.

For more about Parcheesi, visit these webpages:

What movie was I watching?   Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson.  I recommend it.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Yesterday at a local Farmer's Market I bought fresh eggs from a farm that claims to have "free-range" chickens. I like the idea of chickens roaming outside and feeding naturally. I also enjoyed the varied colors of the eggshells and the good taste of the eggs.

In recent years the term "free-range" has been applied to children, too. I first heard it in 2009 in Springfield, MA, while attending an urban planning workshop on "Community Health through Design." The keynote speaker Mark Fenton said that most of us, when we grew up, were"free-range kids" -- free to go find other kids, be active outdoors, and learn many physical and social skills (e.g., how to pick teammates and start games) without close adult supervision. "Get out of the house until the street lights come on" was a common parental instruction according to a show of hands in that middle-aged and older audience. He lamented that most kids today are not allowed such freedom. There's a epidemic of inactivity and resulting long-term health and behavioral problems. What we want to do, he said, is create a world --safe walkable cities, bike trails, etc. --where today's kids can be "free-range."

Growing up in Danvers, I didn't think consciously of the freedom I had. My mother always wanted to know where I was, whether I was going next door to Granddaddy's, or up the hill by the barn, or down Nichols Street to my friend Janet's home. Compared to my friends' mothers, I felt that my mother was more restrictive about where I roamed. Mommy and I took for granted, however, that I could walk to Janet's all by myself, even though that was a long stretch of road lined by woods and fields.  I was at liberty to spend hours away from home, as long as she knew where to find me.  She'd ring the dinner bell loudly to call me home.  I was indeed a "free-range kid."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ken Beck, Artist

My classmate Ken Beck sent me this image of a self-portrait he painted a few years ago. He tells me it was based on a photograph taken in 1956, when he was 12 years old.  His happy memories of growing up as an artist in Danvers are shared in this month's column, published Thursday June 6 in the Danvers Herald.  He described the teachers who influenced him, especially Frances Matsubara.

"Self-Portrait as a Young Artist"
Oil on Panel. 12x9" c. 1959
Ken thanks me for encouraging him to write down his memories. Conversations we had at Holten High Reunion last July (our first meeting since 1959!) led to the autobiographical writing he has produced this year. In February he gave a Gallery Talk about his life and art at the Gallery NAGA in Boston. When he sent me the text of that talk, we discussed ways to include his stories in my columns. I wanted Danvers readers to hear his descriptions of Danversport (see entry below) and his praise of Danvers teachers. Ken wrote additional details of his Danvers experiences and began sending me images to accompany the stories.  I have enjoyed this collaboration.

At the reunion Ken was one of the first classmates I recognized.  And I do recognize him clearly in this young self-portrait. It has been fun to get to know him better and to learn what he has been doing in the intervening 50+ years.  Back in the 1950's I knew very little of the artistic side of Ken Beck.  Now I look forward to visiting his studio and seeing his artwork, especially the series of 10 paintings he did based on family photos from Cheever Street. "All together, they constitute a kind of painted visual autobiography," he says.

See the June column The Education of a young artist, which was published in the paper June 7 and posted online June 9.  Updated link: The Education of a young Danvers artist

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Cheever Street, Danvers, 1959 - Photo collage by Ken Beck
My friend Ken Beck grew up in Danversport and provided this image of Cheever Street, the street where he and his family lived.

During last summer's Danvers high school reunion I heard many stories about Danversport. Ken and other classmates reminisced about places and people they had known there and the experiences they had shared in childhood.  I realized how very little I had known about Danversport, as I grew up in the woods and fields of the northern part of the town, far from the port. Wishing to learn more, I encouraged my classmates to write down their stories and share them. Ken has done so, and I thank him.  This spring Ken sent me a long autobiographical piece, which I will share in segments in upcoming columns.

See the May column for many quotations from Ken Beck, my friend from Cheever Street.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


This month's column is "The surprise of snowdrops in spring."   I'm pleased that the Danvers Herald editor added a lovely photo of snowdrops.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage is an unmistakable sign of spring!   This year skunk cabbage appeared early, thanks to the unseasonably warm days in March.  I walked around a pond in western Mass on March 21 and took these photos  -- so reminiscent of the skunk cabbage my mother liked to show me along the streams and ponds in Danvers when I was young.

What bizarre shapes! Like sculpture...

Cabbage-like leaves
I have always enjoyed the sight of skunk cabbage and the faint skunky smell.  I welcome this sign of spring. 

For this month's column, I have written about another plant that appears very early in spring: snowdrops.

Friday, March 30, 2012


As I watch the webcam of eagles and eaglets (see yesterday's post), I think back to the bird watching we did from our kitchen in Danvers. I'll never forget the day we saw wild ducklings for the first time.  We didn't have a webcam -- just binoculars at our kitchen window.   Here's the story as I wrote it in a column called "Taxis, Buses, and Wild Ducks" (published May 3, 2007):

My mother was fond of birds and had posted bird feeders and nesting boxes around our yard, including a big box on a pole in the pond south of our kitchen windows.  We called it the “wood duck box” and in fact wood ducks did nest in it every year.  We loved to see the colorful feathers on the male wood duck. 

One school morning during breakfast we heard persistent calls from the pond. A female wood duck was swimming back and forth at the base of that pole, calling and calling, looking up towards the hole on the front of the box high above her.  We grabbed binoculars and looked at the hole. A little yellow something was appearing in the hole, and then disappearing!  Ducklings?  We had NEVER seen wild ducklings before.  As we watched in astonishment, one little ball of yellow leaned out of the hole and fell into the water far below, sinking below the surface, and then bobbing up.  The first duckling!  We were beside ourselves with excitement!  The mother duck was also excited, and continued calling and swimming back and forth. Soon a second duckling took the plunge!  And then a third!   Ohhhh!  Such joy!

But I was about to miss my bus to school. My mother gave clear orders: RUN to the bus stop, tell the driver what’s happening, and invite the whole busload to come see the ducklings!  I did as I was told, and soon the bus was parked in front of our little house and the children were at our windows.  We lost count of ducklings somewhere after 14 or 15. The fast movements of ducklings swimming around their mother created a chaotic blur of yellow.  What a thrill to see this sight! How wonderful to have a bus driver who understood the importance of an educational moment!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Today I'm sitting at my desk contemplating what I will write for the next column.  Something about springtime... snowdrops and skunk cabbage and other wonders of early spring... that's what I'm thinking. I've been collecting ideas and making notes for at least a week.  Soon, very soon, I should begin to write. On my computer screen, distracting me, is a website that contains a live video:

I have just watched in amazement as a nesting bald eagle stood up and revealed two fluffy eaglets and a not-yet-hatched egg beneath her!  Then she fed scraps of meat to one of the eaglets. Yesterday I had caught a glimpse of one tiny eaglet beside two eggs. The night before I observed three eggs. Today the adult fed scraps of meat to one of the eaglets.

I can see from the website that over 50,000 viewers are currently connected to this webcam in Illinois.  So I am not the only one who is distracted by this miracle of nature, and the miracle of the webcam technology that brings it to us.

P.S. On March 30 I discovered an even more widely watched webcam focused on another eagles' nest (in Iowa) -- over 600,000 viewers while the eggs hatched there March 19-24. You can now watch the eaglets grow:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Maple season

The first day of March!  I think of maple trees and the sweet smell of boiling down the sap to make maple syrup.

This old photo (1947?) isn't very clear, but I instantly recognize the pointed hood (and furry trim) of my little snow jacket, the metal cans we used to collect sap, the steam rising from the pan, and the location. We were in the rubble-strewn foundation of the old Locust Lawn mansion that had been torn down in 1944. This spot later was transformed into my mother's sunken garden, but for most of my childhood it was the place where Mommy boiled down the maple sap and made our syrup.  In March 2008 I wrote a column about Making Our Own Maple Syrup;  I'm pleased to see that it is still accessible on the newspaper's website.

Speaking of March and earlier columns, today is the 5th anniversary of publication of my very first "Remembering Danvers" column in the Danvers Herald.  That column is still accessible online:  Skating Backwards.  

[2015 update: the links to my older columns on the newspaper's website no longer work. Their indexing/archiving has changed, or perhaps the older content has been deleted. I am now incorporating copies of my previous columns into this blog to replace the broken links. You may use the search box, above left, to find the topic, e.g., "skating backwards" or "syrup."  Or you may look into the blog chronologically, e.g., select the year 2008 from the menu on right, and open March to select the maple syrup entry.]

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Historic Aerials

Jeremy Davis, founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project ( wrote:  "You'll like this... go to, and type in the address for Locust Lawn (or Conifer Hill Road, Danvers), there is imagery in good quality from 1950's-1960's, and you can fade it in to 2005 imagery and watch the highway pop up! Let me know what you think of the aerial imagery there."

Wow! What an amazing experience to "fly" down over the landscape of my past!   The aerial photos are somewhat blurry, and the copyright information printed across them gets in the way, but once you get oriented to the old neighborhood and begin to recognize a building here, a pond there... it is exciting to see this real evidence of remembered places.  The old barn!! Thanks, Jeremy.

Here are the dates available for Conifer Hill Drive, Danvers: 
1955  (low quality)  - before the Almy's shopping center was built, but my father's new factory (Nichols & Clark, Inc.) shows near Rte 1.
1969  best view of ski slope area E of the old barns; our new house at 121 Nichols St.
1971  (a summer view, leaves on trees)  Highway construction had removed barn & ski hill.
1978 Rte 95 now has cars on it. The pond by Nichols St is clearly visible.
1995 Office park had replaced our original home (120 Nichols St), and reduced pond size.
2001 (color, higher quality)The UNEX building (Nichols & Clark, Inc.) is still visible.
2005  (excellent quality) UNEX building has been replaced by a much larger building (Berry).

Technical notes: I first tried to access these aerial photos from my Mac, and was not successful. My husband tried with his PC, and found that it worked better after he installed the Microsoft Silverlight software (free, and downloadable from the Historicaerials site). I tried again, and yes, the Silverlight software helps the Mac, too. You must also search on a current address (Conifer Hill Dr, Danvers, MA) not an obsolete address (120 Nichols St). The 1955 view is not indexed with 1955 addresses.   

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Homemade ski tows

If you enjoyed reading my recent entry (or the February newspaper column) about ski lifts, perhaps you would also enjoy a blog entry I wrote four years ago about several of the ski tows my father designed and built.  He was creative and inventive, and he loved to ski.   See my February 2008 posting called "Ski tows."

You might also be interested in some much earlier postings I created for the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP).  Long before I started writing columns for the Danvers Herald, I had submitted information about "Locust Lawn," our local ski hill, to NELSAP.  I also scanned old photos and created a personal webpage about skiing at Locust Lawn.   I had forgotten about that webpage until today when I looked again at the NELSAP site.  Under "Locust Lawn - Danvers MA"  it still links to my old page!    I haven't changed that page in 10 years; it looks terribly primitive by today's standards. Maybe someday I'll find time (ha!) to redo the presentation of those photos and memories.

We had such fun skiing on those local cow pasture slopes and riding up those homemade ski-tows!   It is worth remembering!   My experiences at Locust Lawn seem unique, but through NELSAP I've learned there were many, many other small ski operations serving different locales in New England.

Remarkably, NELSAP has been on the web for 13 years now. As of today, NELSAP lists 599 lost ski areas.  I imagine many of them also had locally-made ski lifts of one sort or another -- back in the good-old, do-it-yourself days.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ski lifts

A newspaper article this month about a young girl falling off a ski lift brought back a vivid memory of my first-ever chair lift ride. My parents had taken me to a commercial ski place somewhere in Maine.  They were skiing with me and they assured me that the chair-lift was safe, but I wasn't convinced. I was quite reluctant to get on that open seat that would carry me high in the air.  It looked scary.  Actually the chairs didn't go very high (compared to other chairlifts I'd ride in later years).  The snow below was so close that Daddy cautioned me to keep the tips of my skis up.  He was riding in a chair behind me; my mother was behind him; I was in a single chair in front of them, feeling very vulnerable and uncertain.  (How will I get off this thing?).  Ahead of me were some teenagers. One fellow was swinging his skis rather recklessly. That jiggled the whole cable and bounced our chairs, scaring me even more.  Daddy said these chairs were well attached to the cable and safe; nothing to worry about.  Suddenly the boy's ski tip caught in a snowdrift below and flipped him out of his chair, right down into the snow!  His empty chair bounced wildly about three times and then detached from the cable and fell into the snow below.  I sat frozen in fear for the rest of the ride, hardly daring to breathe.  This was NOT a good introduction to chair lifts!  I was much relieved to get off at the end, and I wished to return home to the more familiar rope tows.

In Danvers I grew up with rope tows. My father designed and built several ski-tows. Some were portable; some were fixed in place. The first one I remember was at the top of the hill at Locust Lawn, powered by an old Model T Ford. Daddy sometimes had to use a hand crank to get that engine turning. A long loop of ski-tow rope ran from the Ford all the way down the slope of the cow-pasture hill and back up again. The rope moved continuously, pulled forward by the rotation of the Ford's rear wheels.  Pulleys tied to trees or poles high in the air guided the rope down the slope; the return part of the loop slid back uphill on the snow surface.

Learning to grab that slippery moving rope for a ride uphill was tricky at first.  I recall awkward early attempts.  If I grabbed the rope too suddenly, I'd be jerked forward and thrown off balance, falling forward in the snow.  If my skis weren't straight in the track, I'd be pulled sideways and fall over.  If I didn't squeeze the rope tightly enough with my little mittens, the rope just slid through my hands and I didn't move forward at all.  It took practice and patience to learn the art of holding that rope with just the right pressure to move forward gracefully.

When I was very young, Daddy just did the work for me, skiing with his long legs and arms around mine and holding onto the rope tow in front of me.  That was easy and fun!   I didn't have to worry about holding onto that rope. Daddy's grip carried us both uphill.

As I grew older and gained confidence as a skier, using the rope-tow became second nature.  I'd ski quickly down the slope, turn, slide right up beside the moving tow, grab it and go right up the hill without any conscious effort.  Up and down, up and down for hours of skiing on this local Danvers hill.  We rarely skied anywhere else.  If there was snow in Danvers, we skied at Locust Lawn.

It was rare to go "upcountry" to ski at a real ski resort.  I did eventually overcome my fear of chairlifts and enjoy skiing on some bigger mountains.  But I still have wonderful memories of skiing in Danvers with local friends and that comfortable old rope tow.