December 18, 2014

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part I)

While Boston's "New" State House recently unearthed a time capsule from 1795, we at the Old State
House just began displaying some of the items that were included in the 1901 time capsule that was found in our lion statue earlier this fall.  Due to the sensitive nature of these materials, the temporary exhibit will only run through the end of January. 

The contents of the time capsule fall into four categories: Boston newspapers, Grand Army of the Republic paraphernalia, government photographs and ephemera, and artifacts associated with the Old State House restoration in 1901.  In addition to the copper capsule and the red book, I selected 17 other items from these categories to display.  In the coming weeks, I'll use our blog to provide some additional information and photographs of these items for history fans who can't make it to the Old State House to see this display in person. The first category that I'll feature is Boston newspapers.

A few years ago our library staff found a reference in the February 24, 1901 edition of the Boston Daily Globe that listed the items deposited in the time capsule to be placed in the head of the lion atop the Old State House.  Given that much of the information we knew about the contents of the time capsule prior to opening it came from this newspaper article, it was only fitting that we found a number of items pertaining to Boston newspapers in the capsule.

The items that we selected to display are the February 19, 1901 edition of the Boston Transcript, donated by Edw. G. Richardson, City Hall Representative; the Boston Herald "Herald Boy" electrotype; an envelope labeled "A Message to Posterity from the Daily Newspapers at City Hall"; and "The Outlook for the Twentieth Century," a letter written by George Litchfield, Business Manager of the Boston Traveler. I've written about the Litchfield letter and the message to posterity envelope in a previous post, but I've included some larger pictures of them below, and have also provided some additional information about the other two items on display.

When opened, this sealed envelope was discovered to be empty - perhaps a joke from journalists in 1901!

George Litchfield outlines his thoughts for the future, touching on technology, communication, and travel.

The February 19, 1901 Boston Transcript was one of five newspapers included in the time capsule, but this was the only one that was labeled and folded; given the space constraints of our display case, this made it the perfect size to include.  One of my concerns about newspapers in the time capsule was that they would be in poor condition.  Have you ever tried to save an important newspaper article, only to find out that after a few weeks it has yellowed and become brittle?  We were lucky that the time capsule was airtight and watertight, meaning that the capsule contents didn't have interaction with oxygen or moisture and thus they remained in surprisingly good condition.  Note that this newspaper is only slightly yellowed, but beyond that it is in good condition and does not look like it is 113 years old.  At this point, we don't know very much about the newspaper donor, Edw. [Edward] G. Richardson, who is listed as "City Hall Representative."  The 1900 and 1901 Boston city directories have only one entry for Edward G. Richardson, and list him as a reporter with a business address of 324 Washington Street, which was the headquarters of the Boston Transcript.  It seems likely that Richardson was one of the reporters detailed to City Hall in 1901.

Also on display is an electrotype of the Boston Herald's "Herald Boy."  There were a few items related to the Boston Herald in the time capsule, including business cards, a newspaper from February 21, 1901, and a die cut for printing of the Herald building at 255 Washington, but this electrotype was the most visually stunning.  The headline on the newspaper that the Herald Boy is holding reads, "The Boston Herald Circulation Nov. 9, 1892, 533,140."  Electrotyping was used in printing beginning in the 1830s and its usage continued until the late 1900s.  Some newspapers in the early 1900s had entire electrotyping departments.

Be sure to check back in the coming weeks to learn about the time capsule items on display!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

December 9, 2014

Continuing an 18th century walk in the South End

Today we'll be concluding the walk down Washington Street that we began in the last post

We have just reached the edge of Marlbrough Street and now the street veers to the left, becoming Newbury Street (the Back Bay’s current boutique boulevard of the same name is unrelated). Here at the corner of Essex Street stands the majestic Liberty Tree. The space beneath the boughs of this ancient elm is called “Liberty Hall” by locals; it is a gathering place of the popular voice in Boston politics. The Loyal Nine, the earliest incarnation of the Sons of Liberty, organized many of these protests from a small counting room in Chase and Speakman’s distillery “near the Liberty Tree.” Several other shops advertised their proximity to it as well: a pair of Scottish glovers, a wine cellar promising “Old Sterling Madeira… and other wines all in their original purity,” and the White Horse Tavern (where Perez Morton grew up).

Continuing past the Liberty Tree on what is now Orange Street, you might become aware that the land is now narrowing toward the isthmus called Boston Neck. The land here is even more scarcely populated and the shoreline is dotted with far fewer wharves. Before long the cross streets disappear. The narrow row-houses of Boston give way to free-standing structures, between which you can glimpse the nearby shoreline. Without warning, the crowded bustle of Boston has given way to what looks like a small country town.

You might have noticed a standing stone here, beside one of the taverns for out-of-towners, which said, “From here to the Townhouse, 1 mile.” This indicated the distance, specifically to the northwest corner of the Old State House, which was reckoned as point zero for the mile markers along the colonial roads all the way to New York City and beyond. Many of these markers still stand today, unnoticed in the midst of modern residential neighborhoods.

And then you come upon the town wall. Boston is a well-fortified town because of this narrow neck. All it took was a small wall at the narrowest point to make the town virtually unassailable. Outside this gate, just outside the perimeter of the town, the old wooden gallows stand. The hanging of criminals outside the town signifies communal rejection and served as a warning to anyone entering the town. I should also note that convicts were hung by the neck at Boston Neck, which is probably an intentional bit of gallows humor.

That brings us to the end of our tour. If there are any other Boston neighborhoods you’d like to visit in the 18th century, please let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager

December 3, 2014

An 18th century walk in the South End

In a previous post we described the experience of walking down King Street in the center of 18th century Boston. This time, let’s explore the South End.

We begin our journey at the door of the Old State House on Cornhill Street (now Washington Street). Again, you hear the clatter of cart wheels and horse shoes on the pebblestone street. This is the only street into the town and on market days you will find it busy with farmers hauling bushels of crops, country shopkeepers with empty carts to collect new shipments from the wharves, and public coaches departing from King Street carry paying passengers on the Post Road down to New York City.

Across from the Old State House is the “Old Brick Meetinghouse,” pictured to the right, which stood in that spot until its demolition in 1808. It was the last Boston church built in the old puritan style with a square shaped hall and centered cupola.

Walking another hundred yards down Cornhill brings you to another large brick church (and Boston’s largest building), the Old South Meetinghouse. This religious and political giant often hosts meetings attended by thousands. On Sundays the bell towers of Old South and Old Brick toll in slow counterpoint to the background chorus of bells singing from fifteen other churches that stand in the town.

The Meetinghouse marks the end of Cornhill Street and here things grow quieter at the beginning of Marlbrough Street. Here we come to a building well-known to Bostonians, the Province House, which is the official residence of the Royal Governor. It is an impressive house, gated and set back from the street surrounded with stately trees and topped with an iconic weathervane made by the same craftsman who made the weathervanes that top Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

A number of other mansions stood off of Marlbrough. Samuel Adams lived in a three-story house on Winter Street. John Rowe, the merchant, had an estate on Pond Street and Royal Sherriff Stephen Greenleaf lived in a fine property on the end of West Street. These were straight-laced Georgian townhouses with brick facades and fragrant gardens. Unlike the crowded streets of the North End, here in the South End people could keep their neighbors at a distance.

In our next post, we will finish our journey by walking to the very edge of town.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager