Friday, August 11, 2017


In the infamous liquor boxes I’ve got stashed in the upstairs closet, there must be fifty or so of those wonderful cabinet shots—those stiff, cardboard photographs of some of my stiff ancestors posed in various photographic studios. I love the props—the chairs and tables, the fences and sofas—that those photographers used to set up the shots; the curtained backdrops are dead giveaways, aren’t they?
          At any rate, I’ve been looking at the cabinet cards themselves, especially the photographers’ imprints on the bottom front (and/or back): logo, address, etc.
          Some of them are just wonderful…

…two front imprints from the studios of Chickering (on West Street in Boston) and one from Benjamin Freeman in Somerville, both from the 1880s…

…and here’s a backside imprint from A.R. Fowler in Meadville, Pennsylvania (my paternal grandmother came from there…).
          Look at the flowers!!!

Here’s the backside of a portrait of Emma Tidd, a friend of my great-grandmother’s, taken by P.H. Rose. He was a very successful photographer in Providence, Rhode Island; his studio was in the Conrad building (see illustration) on Westminster Street.

I’ve got a cabinet shot of my grandfather, William Wescott Howell, taken in 1884 in Boston at the Ritz & Hastings studio on Tremont Street. On the backside, there’s a fancy imprint for the business, and a lengthy inscription written by my great-grandfather on the occasion.

For those of you who don’t wish to stand on your heads, the inscription reads:
Given to his papa with a kiss one Sunday night in the Library at Ingleside, Dec. 21st, 1884. Willie was 11 years & from June 23rd to Dec. 6th Will weighed         Heighth 4 feet 11 ½ inches. The picture was taken in Boston Dec. 6th, 1884 on Saturday when we had gone down for the lesson on Violin.

          That might be more than we need to know, but I’m awfully glad to know his “heighth.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Old Goat...

For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain...
      --Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur

Friday, July 7, 2017


Whenever I see one of those old visual prompts on Sepia Saturday, I know exactly where to go; I grab a cup of coffee and head up the stairs to the boxes of family memorabilia I’ve tucked away in a closet up there.
There’s all kinds of stuff packed into three liquor cartons (nothing sacred in this family!): letters, cards, programs and playlists; newspapers and report cards; sports awards, old house keys, maps, photographs…
          …and my grandfather’s very first photo album!

It’s about 5”x7” and has gray paper pages gathered and sewn in signatures of five inside a black leather cover. The paper label in the back says “Ward’s Flexible Albums,” but there’s not a hint as to when or where it was manufactured; my best guess is Boston, but I am not certain.
Inside, there are shots of my grandfather and his younger brothers (Richard, Allen, Prescott, Howard) and his sister (Margaret). They’re summertime shots, mostly, taken in East Boothbay, Maine, where the family spent July and August out of the city heat in the early 1900s.

These are two of my favorites: my grandfather (Gardner) is standing on the rocks and one of his brothers (Allen, I think) is twisting on the board (and that board looks like a situation of child endangerment to me); another is in the water, but I don’t know which one.

But look at the bathing suits!

My grandfather told me once that his bathing suit was the most uncomfortable thing he ever wore—said it was made partly of wool, and when it got wet, it itched like fury!
That itching was bad enough, but he wasn’t allowed to scratch “in certain places” for fear of offending the ladies…

“So it was swim and itch,” he said, grinning. “Swim and itch!”

Friday, May 26, 2017


Name: Deborah H. Gould
Year of Birth: 1946
Height: 45.6      Weight: 39.5

Bats: Right      Throws: Right
Batting Average: 285
Position(s): Shortstop, Second Base
Home Field: Boston, MA

Red Ball Jets
Regulation jeans
Plaid flannel shirt

Favorite Team: Boston Red Sox

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Ten or so years ago, I inherited a scrapbook from my mother. She had compiled it in the 1930s when she lived with her parents and sister in the Boston area. The whole family loved the theatre (not “theater,” mind you…); they went often, and my mother pasted programs and flyers into her scrapbook faithfully—a perfect historical record.

In 1936 or so, she went to the Plymouth Theatre (on Stuart Street in Boston) to see “Boy Meets Girl,” a new play in three acts by Bella and Samuel Spewack; she pasted the program into her scrapbook—a program that contained advertisements for Boston eateries, and there were plenty of them: Ye Old Pub (so close to the Plymouth Theatre that they had a 2-minute curtain bell installed at the bar); Ye Old Oyster House (right next door); the Copley Square Hotel bar; the Blue Room at the Hotel Westminster, the Embassy…
          …you went to the theatre, you went out for a drink and/or a bite to eat afterwards.
          That’s just what you did.

One of my mother’s favorite places to go after a performance was the Hotel Touraine, a residential hotel on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets in the theater district of Boston—a big brick and limestone building with a café and bar.

The Café Royal had luncheon plates for 55 cents; dinners cost 75 cents, and were served from 5 until closing. The Touraine also had (according to this flyer) “the most beautiful cocktail bar in Boston,” although in November of 1936, my mother was barely seventeen years old, so I doubt she was cruising the tables.

One of her possessions was a coffee server from the Hotel Touraine…I have no idea how she got it (I can’t, in my wildest moments, believe she actually might have stolen it). It’s heavy silverplate; it has “Hotel Touraine” and a manufacturing number stamped on the bottom.
          I keep it in my dining room, polish it faithfully.

As for Boston’s Hotel Touraine, it closed in 1966 and was converted into an apartment building

Saturday, April 29, 2017


In the beginning, women just spread wet laundry over their fence rails or the shrubs in the back yard; at dinner time (noon, on a New England farm) they went outside and flipped everything over. Laundry lines appeared, tied between trees, from the sides of barns to the corner fencepost, etc.; women draped things over the lines, but had to keep a sharp eye on the wind—your laundry could be all over the dooryard in a matter of minutes.

And so there were clothespins…
The first were simply short pieces of sticks with a split in the middle. They worked fine until the stick split completely; some enterprising woman wrapped the top ends tightly in wet twine—when the twine dried, it tightened, making a solid top that split less often.
In the 1840s, there was a rush of clothespin ideas; inventors played around with length and width, choice of wood (oak, cedar, ash). There was a three-pronged design, which stuck on the line with two prongs on one side of the rope, one prong on the other—a sort of modified paper clip!
And in 1853, David M. Smith of Vermont, came up with the first two-piece, spring clamped clothes pin; it could not “be detached from the clothes by the wind as in the case with the common pin and which is a serious evil to washerwomen.”

I remember my grandmother’s laundry yard in Boston. It was a fenced-in section of the back yard (it was considered improper to have your laundry hanging in full view of the neighbors—goodness’ sake, they might see your underwear!). It had, as I remember, six laundry lines that overhung a series of boardwalks; access was from the laundry room door in the basement.

I loved the laundry room—it was warm, smelled of yellow bar soap, powdered Ivory Flakes and bleach; there was a shelf of colorful boxes and cans and a cloth bag of pins that dangled from a hook near the back door; several wicker baskets; it had a soapstone double sink big enough to get into when I was about five or six.

So, down the back stairs from the kitchen to the laundry room, out the door into the laundry yard; I remember sheets hanging nearly to my knees—bright, white-walled tunnels—and the blue sky up over my head; I remember running up and down the boardwalks, my Red Ball Jet sneakers going whop-whop-whop on the wooden slats.

Oh, the smell of those line-dried sheets!

Saturday, April 22, 2017


I have a collection of canes and umbrellas packed into a ceramic stand; it’s nestled in the corner of my living room, tucked up near the front door. There’s my father’s old cane—a rubber-tipped number he used for security as he got older; my great-aunt’s hiking cane (she scrambled all over Switzerland with it in the 1920s!); there’s even the cane I used for a month or so after my hip replacement nearly five years ago.
And there’s the two umbrellas (“umbies,” my parents called them!): my father’s somber black, and my mother’s playful light-green one—it’s covered with frogs in various shades of green, brown and rust!

Umbrella (Latin root “umbra” for “shade”).
The first recorded use of umbrellas was about 3,500 years ago in Egypt, where umbrellas were used for protection from the sun (so the name makes perfect sense here). They were nothing fancy; think palm leaves stuck to a stick and fanned out for maximum coverage!
Later on, the Chinese (who made multi-tiered paper umbrellas to help identify members of a multi-tiered society) figured out how to apply wax to the paper umbrella—and then it shed rainwater!
Early English umbrellas were made with wooden or baleen ribs, covered with canvas; steel ribs came in around 1850, and in 1880, Robert W. Patten invented an umbrella hat; in the 1920s, somebody invented a “pocket umbrella.”
For little rainstorms, I assume.

Here’s an early Montgomery Ward catalog offer:
“Fancy, all silk umbrellas; amber color straight bakelite handle and trim; or a new Punjab (light tan) with hooked handle, tips and end. Navy blue, green, red, purple, brown, black. Rich fine silk with wrist cord in matching color. Fashionable 16-rib gold color frame and wood rod.”
          And, oh! A scarf to match your umbrella (on right)…for another $2.10, please!

Not to be outdone, Sears, Roebuck & Co. came up with this:
“Genuine imported Swiss Gloria, a lustrous silk and cotton fabric (generally known as silk and linen). 16-rib style. Gold color frame, wood rod, ‘Tearose’ handle, stub end, tips to match. Two-tone colors: Brown, navy blue, purple, green, red or black with white combination and silver color frame.”
All that for $5.00.