Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Deacons Who Deviled

August 28th, 2011

Churches are scary places with scary people. Having observed or been involved in the polity and politics of them from childhood into membership and onto chairing committees and boards, I have long outgrown the idealized world of Godly sorts doing good.


None of my direct experiences equals the wanton assault on Canton, Massachusetts’ first minister, Joseph Mors (a.k.a Morse).

Biking South of Boston, I passed the main Canton cemetery many times. I toured once, finding the really old stuff on the far Southwestern corner next to the UU church. The more recent focused trip included enjoying the 18th and 19th Century New England iconography. One that caught me was Mors’ three-skulled stone.

It turns out that with good reason there’s considerable history available on the late minister. His is a tale of caution for even modern clerics.

Consider his epitaph, including:

Within this silent grave here now doth ly,
Him that is gone unto Eternity.
Who when he liv’d was by good men respected,
Although by others was perhaps rejected;
Yet that done hinder his Triumphing Joy,
With saints above where nought can him away.

I couldn’t leave that. Thanks to long-dead local historians and Google’s digital books project, I didn’t have to.

As background, what is now Canton was in terms of religious governance part of the colonial town of Dorchester, a.k.a. New Grant or Dorchester Village. Mors was the first minister there, for a decade from 1707. Subsequently, this became part of Stoughton, which seemed promiscuously to hand it pieces of itself to neighboring towns. The area where the town of Canton, including its main cemetery are, broke off in 1797, with what seems like whimsical name, suggested by macher Elijah Dunbar, on the approximate belief that it was exactly half way around the globe from the Chinese province of that name.

What Could Go Wrong?

Ministerial careers were much less linear in the colony than today or for that matter in England at the time. While Mors, born 1671 graduated from Unitarian founded Harvard, he started as his education suited, as a teacher. In Providence, he and another teacher, Amity Harris, wed. They moved to Watertown, MA, where he gathered a congregation as well as taught. The locals built a meeting house, but never got the church organized. Then in 1707, he got an offer from the future Canton, then New Village, to settle and preach.

All started out swell, and in fact, from other sources, it turns out that The Morses were both die-hard teachers and pretty open minded. The local Natives, the Ponkapoags, welcomed both of them.  They “were well loved by the Ponkapoag Indians, who appreciated the couple’s efforts to educate them and bring them spiritual comfort.”

Life was rough for all and this was a period of various epidemics as well. The Morses gave religious and school instruction, and Joseph ministered to the Ponkapoag families.

Yet, it was the demon deacons, and not the Wake Forest ones, that undid Mors.

As the astonishingly and fastidiously detailed Huntoon history of the town put it, “In those days the office of deacon was regarded with very great respect…” The ones at First Parish were maybe worse than others, it turns out, bringing charges of “false doctrine” against the new minister. “The deacons considered themselves as umpires on matters of doctrine, and, letting the greater part of the sermon slip by without interest, were on the alert to detect and remember the slightest dogmatical inaccuracy or unguarded expression which in the hurry of composition might have escaped from the pen of the minister.”

Whole Town Watching

Snidely I must note that had the locals and deacons lived in our days of sports teams and cable TV, they might have had more if not better concerns and distractions. As it happened, when the deacons were charging Mors, it was a big deal.

“This charge, preferred by one of such high standing and authority in the church, was a cause of much alarm and difficulty. Meetings and fasts were held concerning it, and the communion was suspected for more than six months. Finally, the church voted that they were not dissatisfied with the pastor on account of the allegations brought against him.”

The deacon then backed down. The minister was cleared. From our distance of three centuries, we’d suppose Mors won and was untouchable. Ha!

“The disaffected only awaited an opportunity for a fresh attack; nor was it long before an occasion offered itself.” Upon the request of local Elhanan Lyon “who seems to have been a thorn in the flesh both th Mr. Morse and his successor” was on a committee of the General Court (legislature) and called Mors before that committee with accusations.

This in turn was like a Bill Clinton thing. If you have the interest, read all of the pages of this section of Huntoon for the nasty details. The short of it is that Mors was tripped up on alleged lies. Lying being flat out for ministers, at least at the time.

The underlying issue is that some unnamed person claimed that Mors got tipsy at a dinner party in Canton. Then, when grilled about it, he said he did not overindulge. Hence, those after his scalp, and likely still angry about being rebuffed in the earlier vote of confidence, said he was lying about it.

So the minister was twice tainted, alleged to be a sot and liar. The Dorchester Village council met on the issue a few times. When it came to a vote, by a single one, he was judged unworthy of continuing his ministry.

To little effect, another council meeting of nine churches censured everyone, “requiring them to acknowledge their faults to each other.” By this time, Mors was dead in the pulpit, figuratively. The lasting stain on his was that, like Clinton, he was permanently known as a liar, or as one in the council wrote later “guilty of designed false speaking.”

Again from 304 years distance, it’s impossible to know whether in the mind of the locals it was worse that Mors might have had a glass too many or that he refused to admit it.

He lived out his remain few years in the town, but not as a minister. He had an offer to preach elsewhere, but did not accept it.

Church Traps

I know a lot of  clerics, all of whom have political tales. They tend to note there’re folk in every congregation looking for trouble. They also say congregants and sometimes staff members can be willing to seduce them. Both perils could get a cleric shipped away.

I can recall the first church feud I was aware of when I was 8 or 9. In a large Methodist church in the South, the minister’s wife ran the church in many ways. She disliked the excellent organist/choir director, perhaps because he was very popular among adults and kids alike. She was determined to oust him, which came with time constraints in those days. Methodists were in a given church for only three years before reassignment, in the tradition of the circuit riding John Wesley.

She tried to stir up animosity and got only a little traction in accusing him of this or that. Eventually though, he got real tired of her sniping and attitude. He got an offer to tour Europe as an organist and snapped it up, going on to relative fame.

In other churches, I’ve seen worse. Consider the downtown Boston UU one where I revivified the personnel committee and then ran the board for a couple of years. Two key staff members, each with her own constituency went head to head and rumor to rumor in competition for resources and congregant affection. Staff meetings got so contentious, replete with shouting and tears, that the senior minister stopped holding them and met with one member at a time.

Neither would give a millimeter and each said she was the primary reason congregants came…and pledged. The implication was if they left, the church would collapse. It was ugly, but at least no one was trying to ruin the career of the senior minister.

The devilish duo were so intractable that I finally accepted that they had to go. I convinced one that she wasn’t ever going to find what she wanted there and to look for a larger, better paying church. The other had included me on her hit list and tried to get me removed from both committees.Instead. my personnel report on the problems convinced her that she too was not going to have her way. She and her rich hubby left in a huff, moving from Boston, and prophecizing doom for the church without her talents and his money. Nothing like that occurred and she was easily replaced with a rational and pleasant person.

My minister chums note that many who work at or attend churches are both emotionally needy and feel that being there gives them righteousness points. Regardless of the motives, the Godly places can be ungodly nasty.

Bitter Unfairness of Baseball

August 23rd, 2011


Perhaps Uncle Scar speaks for the Red Sox Nation in The Lion King, with his “Life’s not fair.”

Consider last night. The Boston team was in Arlington, but not the one near the Alewife stop. The Texas Rangers beat ’em again, 4 to zip this time, for the fourth consecutive time this season, as in all of the games the teams have played.

While I am no longer a huge baseball fan (I was as a kid, but I got better), I recall that no team ends a season with a 1.000 record. Verily, they all have losing streaks of 1, 2, up to a dozen games and occasionally more. Even teams with far more wins seem to flail against allegedly inferior ones from time to time.

So far this season the Sox are very good, clear contenders for the division and league and quite possibly for the World Series. In the long view too, they have done well. Specifically, only three teams have won more World Series than the Sox (that would be 7 for them). Those would be the Athletics, Cardinals, and one other…wait, wait, it’ll come to me…

georgeSo since the Sox brought it all home in 2004 and 2007, the local media, sports bloggers, bar pundits and T riders all have buffed up the facade. What with the Patriots, Bruins and so forth doing well, the loser/also-ran persona supposedly went away like that piano George Herman Ruth supposedly tossed into Willis Pond. (HT to for the image.)

Well, I don’t think so.

The Sox team and fans had long whined before their recent WS victories that any team that won had simply bought the pennant as they had rented the best pitchers and sluggers. Surely the Yankees would not win without a bloated payroll. Yet, when the new Sox owners more than matched other teams in headhunting players, and ended up with the most expensive tickets in MLB in the process, suddenly that gripe stopped. The other guys may have been checkbook cheating, but we were doing what we had to for fairness’ sake.

What got me started on this whole thing was this morning’s Globe sports-page whine fest. Under a temperature alibi heading — Degree of difficulty, let the excuses tumble down. The subhead was With temperature at 102, Red Sox are stifled by Wilson and Rangers. Above the huge pic of pitcher Erik Bedard daubing face sweat, it was Star-struck The Red Sox opened their series with the Rangers last night with three of the four All-Stars in teheir starging lineup out with injuries. Their replacements went a  combined 1 for 10.

How pathetic was Peter Abraham’s report?

I suppose it was only hot in the highly localized spots where the Sox stood. Of course, our players never experience heat and humidity on the Boston tundra.

Plus, it was woulda, coulda, shoulda. If only our last year’s All-Star team players were batting, boy, we woulda showed ’em.

To his credit, the Sox manager was not so blinded by boosterism. Though buried in the jump, Tony Francona’s quote about Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson was that even when the team was healthy, he mowed them down. “When we’ve had our full lineup, he’s gone through it.”

So it comes down to what’s the working attitude here? Has the Red Sox nation really crawled out of the loser’s mausoleum into the sun of contention and competence? Have the many decades of no WS rings been forgotten or at least relegated to history? To the real point, are they ready to join the teams that say, “We weren’t good enough,” when the other team wins.

These excuses really stink.

Skulls to Wheat in West Roxbury

August 21st, 2011

If Forest Hills is a palace among cemeteries, Westerly is a studio apartment, one with a terrible view, but well furnished nonetheless. Today I wandered a bit in the wee West Roxbury burying ground. It has treasurers.

In particularly, Westerly’s existence reflects WR’s then and current attitude. As part of Roxbury and founded about the same time as Boston, near 1630, what became West Roxbury had to have their own, as they do now. The locals buried their bodies in Eliot Street ground, at what became Dudley Square. In 1683, the gentry in western Roxbury decided it was too much of a bother and set up their own cemetery, with the first burial in 1691.

hannahFor us cemetery and iconography freaks, the keen feature is that the ground with only a few hundred burials (many currently who knows where and without stones remaining), Westerly has examples of three centuries of New England stones.

While the MFA filched one as an good example of the slate stone, none of the iconography is unique or even spectacular. However, this little ground is a fine place to see a wide range in a single location.

That spot by the bye is now the backyard of the gigantic Walgreen’s on Centre Street. The unlocked entrance is behind a bus stop at LaGrange. It’s right there, but even many locals don’t notice it or stroll through. It’s on the historic register and comes with the standard restrictions, like no dog walking, no booze, and no gravestone rubbing.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Westerly has many examples of the N.E. classic icon of a winged skull. These are symbols of transformation — to the afterlife. Mehetabel Newel (d. 1739) is a fine example of the early 18th Century work, replete with side scrolling. MehetabelNewel
Newelskull The top in slate is finely carved and has survived well.
Robert Seaver’s (died 1770) already shows the personalization. The original Puritans allegedly saw no chance of communication with the Almighty, yet the skull ornamentation continued to evolve from stylized bones to faces. I’d bet that this resembled Seaver. robertseaver
EBacon1 An older stone, Elizabeth Bacon (died 1713) showed what happened when you gave license to the carver, who expanded the acceptable symbolism. These works are unsigned, although some carvers were prolific enough to be known.
Some of the starkest examples of the skull remain the most straightforward. Here the stone of Benjamin Lyon (died 1752) were Puritan in providing just his death and age, although with modest scroll work lyonfull
WillieHunting In some cemeteries, stones of infants and small children have wee lambs and such. Here, Little Willie (Hunting, died 1860), under two years, had no decoration.
More typically for a child, four year old Abby Harper (died 1845) had a stone with simple wording, but flowers in bud and blossom. Of course, those represented a young life. These are among the most poignant in some cemeteries when there are several blossom or lamb stones together for youngsters who fell to an epidemic. childflowers
guildclose Westerly has a common icon that appears in many N.E. cemeteries. The gathered sheaf of wheat represents God harvesting the people in their time.
Wheat often appeared in whole family plots. Here, the (died 1877 and 1878) stones of Abner and Mary Guild show the symbol, clearly done by the same carver. guilds
draperclose A variation in the same period was a sheaf on top of the stone. This might appear on a single grave, or as here in the mid-to-late 18th Century family stone of the Drapers.
Despite the elaborate carving, these wheat bundles survive amazingly well. Here the 1840 stone topping still shows detail. sheaftop
urncherub Westerly has several other common symbols done well, particularly the urn and willow. Here, an early version on the stone of William Lyon (died 1714) shows cherubs bearing a urn. The container symbolizes the soul within the body, with the transformation winged skull above, as the little angels carry the urn off. We presume there were headed upward.
More typically, stones came to include willows. These trees symbolized eternal life. Here a particularly fine specimen appears on an 1877 stone. willow1877
willowurn As in the previous from the same period, the willow appears next to an urn, with its body/soul symbolism.

Resident directory: The 280 known burials have gotten history buffs excited. The Find-a-Grave site lets you search them, many with images and some with transcriptions of the text. No one hugely famous is here, but there are many from pre-Revolutionary through the Civil War.

Party Like 1863

August 13th, 2011

I confess that I like the 54th (and the affiliated Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society). They were re-enacting again at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, as they did on Juneteenth in Franklin Park. Plus, I get to play history geek without wearing the wool uniform in summer.

The price of the Harbor Islands ferry has about tripled from when we first went about 30 years ago, but it’s still in the range of a movie ticket. For that, you get the round-trip boat ride as well as all the freebie activities on George’s Island (and a couple of nearby ones if you want to explore or beach it). We went from Quincy for the first time instead of heading downtown. That’s a little easier for us in HP, but we missed the longer boat ride from Long Wharf. I pity the fool who never does the islands trip, even though fares are around $14 after they became a federal park. Another big plus is a subset of Jasper White’s Summer Shack, replacing the terrible pink hot dogs and similar dreck from the old days, and at good prices. Huzzah.

Today was the annual Civil War encampment (last week a Native American festival). Some years have many re-enactors. Today was just the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Company A and a single Colored Ladies rep.  They are worth a trip though.

The troops have replicas of the muzzle-loading Enfield musket rifles used by the 54th 148 years ago.
54drill They have authentic clothes and hardwar, which they show and explain. They also set up several tents and the personal trappings of the period.
Benny White, acting as the regiment’s lieutenant drilled and inspected the soldiers, explained the uniforms and gear, and led them though preparing their weapons. 54looey
54prez 54th president and acting as sergeant, Emmett Bell-Sykes provided the history of the regiment and other African American troops in the war. Note here the haversack eagle medallion on his chest, which White said was nicknamed “the target,” as it seemed to serve no other purpose.
The symbols of the regiment were on the top of their caps. This is the group that proved that black soldiers were are smart and brave as any. It served as the model of the movie Glory and the huge bronze across from our state house. 54captop

Creative Commons note: You’re welcome to use and abuse these snaps. They are Creative Commons-Attribution. Just cite the source somewhere.

City of Light(house)s

August 8th, 2011

Last weekend, friends we visited in Portland, Maine, took us on a quick hopping tour of lighthouses. They have them scattered about like Bostonians have doughnut shops and ice cream stores.

No ledge or shoal seemed safe enough not to build at least a tiny Pharos as a warning. Those shown and cited here have their histories and links in the Coast Guard listings.

We did swing by, walk around and tour the coast paths of the Portland Head Light. It is a classic, literally, as the first after the feds started funding lighthouses. The 80-footer was first lit in 1791 and not automated until 198 years later. It’s a stack of rocks (rubble stone with brick lining in lighthouse terminology). It is still working.

While hand lighting and then a keeper manually switching the light seems primitive now, the tiny Bug Light was far worse for a long time. The Portland Breakwater Light (nicknamed for its wee cuteness) required a transient keeper to make his way along 1,800 foot of dangerous breakwater to light or tend it from 1831 to 1877.

The Cape Elizabeth Light is scenery overlooking the entrance to Casco Bay (and the wildly popular Lobster Shack). It was one of a pair of cast iron ones in 1828. The other was dismantled about a century later.
BugTop Bug Light really is cute, while simultaneously being elegant. Only 26 feet tall, this cast iron version replaced the original wooden one.
Bug Light has six weathered Corinthian columns. While deactivated in 1942, it has operated privately since 2002. BugColumn1
SpringPointDetails The more impressive 54-foot Spring Point Ledge lighthouse has a many fancy details as well. It is on the end of a 900-foot breakwater that makes visit worthy of a lunch later.
My favorite snaps of the Portland Head Light are not of the building. Rather an imposing gull on the lower buildings stands guard and it is surrounded by rosa rugosa bushes with quarter-sized rose hips. hipred

Creative Commons note: You’re welcome to use and abuse these snaps. They are Creative Commons-Attribution. Just cite the source somewhere.

Pre-Safety Net Marker

July 26th, 2011

Evidence of a true atavism appears on a flat marker in Dorchestrer. In the Cedar Grove cemetery is one reading HOME FOR AGED COLORED WOMEN. Nearby are rows of small stones marking the graves of those residents.

home4agedThis institution operated just before and decades after the Civil War. While Boston was in a state that long before given up slave ownership, by custom and law, it was not an area where many African American residents flourished. Think of the north slope of Beacon Hill, where many of them lived, and went to their work as servants.  While better than slavery, that offered little chance for saving or advancement, and certainly not for retirement.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening. It was catch as catch can for the poor, old or feeble.

The Home for Aged Colored Women was by then in its longest term location, down the street from the State House at 22 Hancock Street. That’s now a super-priced double home abutting Suffolk University on the back. Having lived across the street when I first moved to Boston, I know that this strip had become low-rent boarding houses after the black residents began to decamp. Back in the 19th and into the early 20th Centuries, it surely was an affordable place for charities to rent or buy.

fullerstoneIn 1910, this Home accepted three new residents and had a total of 18 women. Other documents said it could accommodate up to 20. They had six paid employees, and as the Census notes in one of its then-necessary columns, “Colored persons received.”

The Home was organized in 1860 “at the suggestion of Mrs. K. P. Clarke, and incorporated in 1864, for aged colored women of good character, who are unable to take care of themselves. If able, or if they have friends able to assist them, the beneficiaries are obliged to pay a small amount toward their maintenance.” The original location was also in the area with many black servants, at 27 Myrtle Street.

The MA Historical Society mentions it too, writing “an interracial group of concerned citizens opened the Home for Aged Colored Women on Beacon Hill to care for elderly African and African American women. Many of these women were ex-slaves.”

A different form of charity was in African American women helping in the Civil War effort, particularly in support of black soldiers such as the 54th Regiment Company A. Look up a floor on River Street in Hyde Park’s Cleary Square to see the office of The Colored Ladies Christian Relief Association. The 54th website describes them as, “The Colored ladies present the ‘hidden half’ of the story 
of the 54th, the contributions of African American women in the 
Civil War.”

The Bostonians weren’t the only groups. In an online encyclopedia on women in the  Civil War, the drive of Elizabeth Keckley led to numerous such Contraband Relief Associations. Contraband of course referred to freed or escaped slaves. Keckley a dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln ran a successful business and encouraged other free blacks to contribute to society.

Lincoln contributed a sizable $200 to the new effort. When Keckley accompanied her on a trip through New England and New York City, she “encouraged Octavia Grimes to establish the Colored Ladies’ Relief Association and Sarah Martin the Fugitive Aid Society of Boston. Both organizations were attached to all-black Boston churches and became auxilliaries of the CRA.”

She solicited contributions from black and white abolitionists here and abroad. She expanded the effort and even broadened the name to Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldiers’ Relief Association. In what would today strike chords left and right, “she was concerned that white philanthropists and charity workers who underestimated the abilities and the potential of the formerly enslaved would undermine their efforts to elevate themselves.”

Two Neighborhoods, Two Soldiers

July 25th, 2011

In Boston, Dorchester has a personalized Civil War memorial and Hyde Park a more generic one. A clean shaven, stalwart, strong chinned bronze soldier in HP’s Fairview cemetery stands for all. Benjamin Stone is the personification of local hero in Dot’s Cedar Grove. He appears with ragged hair and drooping mustache.

bstonechumIn fact, the late Capt. Stone’s name appears on the town’s Soldiers Memorial and a Grand Army of the Republic post. He was a bit of a pied piper though, recruiting and leading the men of the town South to their death in support of the Union. Looking at the long rows of headstones behind his statue, I am not sure I would have been so fond of him had I been a parent, sibling, fiancee or spouse who lost a man.

In his early 40s, Stone earned a living engraving (printing) music. Married, with kids, he was highly patriotic. At the start of the war, he apparently had no doubt that someone had to organize the local effort. He did, recruiting many of his peers, highly disproportionate to other towns.

DotStone3That became the Massachusetts 11th Regiment, Company K. As was OK at the time, it elected him as leader, suddenly Capt. Stone. They trained at Fort Warren and headed to where the bulk of the war was fought, Virginia.

There at Manassas (a.k.a. Bull Run for the local creek), he was one of 113 of the company to be fatally wounded. He died a couple of weeks later in a hospital after a leg amputation. In the end, only 12 of the company returned to Dorchester.

Incongruously it seems, Stone’s remains are in Dorchester North cemetery, in his mother’s plot and not where the townsfolk erected  his statue. It makes sense in that many of his fellow soldiers from Company K are in Cedar Grove.

Plus, Cedar Grove did not organize until 1867. Boston annexed Dorchester three years later, that cemetery became a government one, until it returned to a private one in 1887.

An opposite process happened at Fairview in Hyde Park. Formerly part of Dedham, HP became its own town with its own cemetery. Fairview opened in 1893 on the banks of Mother Brook. After HP agreed to become the last neighborhood of Boston in 1912, the city took over the grounds.

fairviewsoldier1Previously, the HP prominent families had large, open plots. Those parts still have the bucolic appearance of a garden cemetery, like Forest Hills’ older parts. Like that one too, economics rule now and much of Fairview is also a necropolis of close stones in neat rows.

Not far from the entrance there is a very different Civil War monument to local soldiers. Idealized in the classic tradition, this soldier has a recognizable US belt buckle of the Union troops, but no rank or personality and of course, no name attached. He is soldier.

It’s probably silly to make to much of the differences. The Fairview soldier has a semicircle of a few local corpses representing both army and navy members. He stands in for them all.

Fairview is a city cemetery and as such more egalitarian and impersonal. The Stone statue in Dorchester was privately funded and used a known local figure to represent all the town’s soldiers in that war.

On the statues and in articles, I don’t see mentions of the sculptors. That’s not terribly unusual for works for hire, except with famous funereal ones, like Daniel Chester French’s at Forest Hills. I’ll update this if I run across the artists.

Holy Zombie, Mother of God!

July 21st, 2011

zmaryScary Mary appears in an old section of Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery. The life-(bwah ha ha)-size statue truly looks like a prop in a horror movie. The darkened stone couples horrifically with lichen and fungal growth to suggest the bad side of an afterlife.

While I joined numerous Boston Tours de Graves cemetery rides, I had not spent time in either Fairview or Dorchester’s Cedar Grove. I changed that yesterday and today.

Expect statuary and stones images.

Honor Partially Paid at Camp Meigs

July 19th, 2011

Sterling rhetoric, but tin foil action has been the sporadic focus on Boston’s Camp Meigs. I trotted down this afternoon and confirmed that there is little local glory for the Glory Brigade.

meigsTwo months ago, two Globe contributors, Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki, raised a weak huzzah to the sub-sub-neighborhood historical site. They called, meekly, for a second Freedom Trail, which would include this 2.8 acre neglected locale in the Southernmost part of the Southernmost part of Boston.

That’s pretty much been the norm since 1866. The eruption of honor appeared in 1897 across from the MA state house, in the form of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. While the gigantic relief piece shows the African American soldiers, the monument in art and name is of course for the white commanding officer. The all-black 54th, 55th and 5th are fairly extras in their drama, typical of the time.

Maybe 10 miles South, they drilled and prepared for war, the first fighting forces of black men in this country. In what was Dedham and became Readville/Hyde Park, the camp was the focus of the training…not that you’d know it now.

A visit just below the Neponset Valley Parkway doesn’t make you hum patriotic tunes. Sharing a large rectangular block park, the Camp Meigs site is the smallest portion of a basketball court, softball field, kid’s playground and tennis courts. Where you see the green circle I overlaid on the Google map above, is the evidence. There’s kind of an open ground where the small group of reenactors and educators occasionally sets up. They also take their depiction on the road, including in Boston.

There is a cemetery size and style stone and and an embarrassing fake cannon. The miniature, concrete cannon has graffiti. The stone is OK, with basic-facts on front and a Frederick Douglass quote from 1863 on the back. The latter reads that once the black soldier is outfitted for war “…there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned thie right to citizenship in the United States.”

That’s a start.

Warning or Promise: I had a good time reviewing the ancient HP publications that included Meigs coverage. I’ll do more later this summer on conditions during the Civil War, food, gear and such.

For a wider view on Camp Meigs, I prefer the tone on an address by a D. Eldredge given in 1906 to the Meigs Memorial Association and the Hyde Park Historical Society. (Search for Meigs in the linked text to read it all.)

Let me say that Hyde Park may well be proud of its delightful suburb, proud that so historic a spot is an integral part of the town. Proud may the dwellers at Readville be, for here, beneath our very feet, nearly fifty years ago, thousands marched up and down and upon this plain. The rattle of musketry, the bugle’s blast, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drum, the clanking of the sabre, the neighing steed and the roar of cannon became familiar sounds.

meigsmonumentHere the very flower of the youth of this good old Commonwealth of ours gathered themselves together as a mighty phalanx. Here they learned the art of war, bade fond mother and father, or wife, the sad good bye and marched away. Thousands never came back; other thousands perished upon the battle-field, or in the hospital or the dreadful southern prison. Yet other thousands of the wounded and the sick were sent here to the hospital that they might be near to those they loved and that they might be tenderly nursed.

May these memories, these facts, be kept green, and may the Meigs Memorial Association slack not its hand, but see to it that this and coming generations who make their homes here shall know that this is historic ground, that here was the largest military camp in New England, that soldiers went forth from here to a war such as no man had ever seen.

The land itself turns out to link to the artifact Paul’s Bridge. That farmer, Ebenezer Paul, was surprised by men from the MA governor’s office squatting on is land and, “It is related that the first that Ebenezer Paul knew of any designs upon his land as a camping ground, was his sudden discovery one morn of two or three men sitting under one of the long rows of elms, a few of which are now standing, and his cows gazing upon them with interest.” Supposedly he got $300 a year rental for it.

After the war, he sold his whole farm for $20,000. The local Dedham Gazette editorialized, “”We had hoped,” said the editor, ” that the ground would have been consecrated to some public purpose.”

It was, in a weak way, on July 4th, 1903. There was a splash first. The ceremony had speeches, a commissioned poem, drum rolls and such. A former soldier from the period, Augustus S. Lovett, Esq. also spoke. His rambling and personal address included near the end:

To all these 25,000 or more martial spirits we dedicate this scene of their first soldier days. Long may the cannon preserve their present peaceful positions! Never may the time come when the Star Spangled Banner shall cease to float over this consecrated ground, and may children’s children to the latest generation swell the chorus of the Union saved, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Over a century later, the wee park dominated by playgrounds and a portable toilet may not fulfill that hope.

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Hey, Foodie, Let’s Get Special

July 16th, 2011

snootyAs it has for centuries, the same answer fits both questions of what to give someone who has everything and what do the privileged need emotionally. That would be obvious and public confirmation that they are special and superior.

A sort, brilliant Simon Kuper piece in today’s FT comes at it from the food-and-status angle, leaving no snot without disdain. He notes how the high-disposable income types have lately been out-peasanting the peasants for ego thrills.

While the richest don’t bother, the social strivers and educated middle-class see peasant food as a status marker. As he writes:

By the 1970s, (Verlinvest’ direcyor Eric) Melloul said, food-processing had liberated the working woman. “Now the same working woman is finding time to go to the farmers’ market, and do the cooking herself – what her grandmother used to do. I go to dinners where probably 50 per cent of conversation centres around food.”

However, Kuper knows this is just another expression of the need to feel special, in control and trendy by choice. He adds, “But eventually strivers must abandon it too. When missionaries like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama succeed in spreading peasant food to the masses, it will lose its status.”

For us boomers, this comes and comes and comes like weak lake tides forever lapping societal shores. It has ranged from lower middle to upper middle classes, with each group seeking alimentary, culinary distinction and pride. In my childhood, the women’s service magazines had the new recipe and new food item, which erupted like pimples before the prom everywhere. It seemed the entire nation ate the same damn thing as soon as Redbook or Ladies Home Journal published it.

As human  foibles go, this food-as-status one is largely harmless. No matter how unthinking the herd behavior, at least it broadens the tastes, smells and colors served up on our tables. When you notice, don’t snort, you likely have your own food pretensions you assume are merely more signs of your superiority.