Saturday, December 29, 2012


It snowed here in Maine on Thursday, snowed steadily all day long and into the night.  In western Maine, it exceeded fourteen inches, while here on the coast, we topped out at about eight.

It was, as we say in Maine, a beaut!
And a perfect opportunity to spend a day at home.

I spent part of my time going through yet another box of family ephemera, and found this masterpiece tucked inside one of my old report cards. I drew it for my parents (or so it says on the backside) in 1956, when I was in the fourth grade; it was originally folded just above the roofline to make a stand-up Christmas card. I was a careful planner in those days – you’ll notice that everything’s plotted and outlined in pencil, then colored with, in all probability, Crayolas.

There’s something about the trees that makes me smile – those small, triangular fir trees plopped willy-nilly over the hillside; the thick-trunked deciduous trees (elms?) on either side of the path that leads up to the house – the red clapboard house with a green door (those are Christmas colors, for certain) and a warm yellow glow in all the windows.
          I was ten years old.

When I found this drawing, I began to think about other places I have lived; began to think of my history in terms of houses. 
My parents had a late 19th-century, dark gray house that overlooked Portland harbor in the 1950s (my mother insisted it was the color of a wet elephant, although I have no idea how she knew what a wet elephant really looked like). After that, they bought a series of old white ramshackle farmhouses in the Midcoast area, some with wonderful connecting architecture involving outkitchens, sheds and barns.
          The first house I ever owned was an 1820 cape near the Kennebec River in the town of Richmond – I couldn’t see the river, but I could smell the water from my front porch.  From there I moved to a small Greek Revival townhouse (white with black shutters) with a curved staircase, then another sweet farmhouse up in the Eastern River valley section of Kennebec County.

Now I’m here, in this house, back in the Midcoast area.

So Thursday, during the snowstorm, I looked at this drawing of my “first” house in snow for a long time, then bundled up in my parka and boots and hat and mittens and went outside, lumbered through the drifts in my driveway to the street to take a photograph of my “last” house in the snow...

First and last: Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I’ve got this old cardboard box in one of the cupboards under my living room bookcases; it’s a shipping box from The American Stationery Co., Peru, Indiana. It’s postmarked 1923 (I think – it’s hard to read), and it’s addressed to Frances T. Gould, 1206 Boylston St., Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts. I’m sure that it originally contained my great-grandmother’s notepaper, but now it’s full of old holiday greeting cards that she saved from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

This yellow-fringed card was sent by Cora Day in 1882.

Fringed cards were the rage! All the larger card manufacturers produced fringed cards in the 1880s, including Louis Prang in Boston and Raphael Tuck in London. The more clever ones had a Christmas greeting on one side and a New Year’s wish on the other; some opened like small books (although when the fringes meshed, separating the pages could get pretty tricky); others had an additional string for hanging – either on a tree or as an ornament (my great-grandmother used to tie them to the window-shade pulls in the living room!).

A Miss Dresher sent along this die-cut, bell-shaped card. When you open the card, a pop-up scene of a crowd outside a church appears. It’s clearly British: the stonework, the arch, the coach driver’s livery – the whole thing smacks of English gentry. The detail is amazing – there are children in bonnets and pinafores, gentlemen in topcoats and hats, a deacon with book, ladies in ribboned finery!

It's true that old Christmas cards weren't necessarily illustrations of what we now consider Christmas themes: Santas, sleighs, decorated trees, snowy landscapes, perfect children hanging perfect stockings. Years ago, flowers, birds, tropical isles and other non-Christmas images were common; things that make us scratch our heads in wonder -- like this last card.

It reminds me of Edward Gorey – slightly funereal and not at all Christmassy. It’s a bright pink card (also die-cut) with a gold border and string for hanging – but it’s the artwork that is so incredible – red, yellow and blue flowers, ferns, stalks of unidentifiable weeds and twigs.

And a nasty, yellow-ish spider, lurking in a handsome web!

A Christmas spider?

What were they thinking?

My best wishes to all of you for peace, simplicity, honesty and integrity this holiday season and throughout the new year.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


In the 1830s, Sir Henry Cole, who was the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, used to buy pretty papers on which to write his annual Christmas greetings to friends and political allies. It was long, laborious process – cutting the papers to size, handwriting each and every “Merry Christmas,” signing his name. How much easier his annual work would be if he could send the same message to all!

So in 1840, he hired a friend of his – John Calcott Horsley – to make a single, well-designed card (more durable than paper) that could be reproduced in unlimited numbers – the first mass-produced Christmas card!  The first run was 1,000, a second run brought the total to 2,050 (what an unusual press run – what’s with that last fifty?), and sold for a shilling apiece.

Horsley probably made some Christmas cash, and Sir Henry must have had a much easier holiday!

But that was Britain; what about here in the USA?

Louis Prang brought the Christmas card to the United States in 1875 (see LOUIS PRANG’S INTERLOPER post of 9/15). At that time, Christmas cards were not necessarily scenes of winter wonderlands, decorated trees and Santas; oftentimes they were flowers, pretty woodland drawings, colorful birds, etc. By 1881, Prang was printing 5 million a year (five million!) and here are two of them, pulled from a collection of family cards.

The card at the top of this post is a Louis Prang card of 1879. It’s very small – 4” x 2-1/2” – a little bigger than a business card – and was either hand-delivered or sent in a separate envelope. The sender (Frances Sabin) gave it to her sister (Ethel Sabin); it’s a sure bet she didn’t mail it! Anyway, strawberries, daisies, lovebirds? Not your standard Yuletide symbols.

That same year, Frances and Ethel’s mother (Roxanna Adams Sabin) received another Louis Prang from an Aunt Harriet. I have absolutely no idea who Aunt Harriet is, but it doesn’t look particularly Christmassy either.

This last one is not a Prang, but at least it’s beginning to look a little bit like Christmas! It was sent to Roxanna in 1883 by her brother Samuel G. Adams (the Boston Police Superintendent I wrote about on October 20). It’s quite big – 7” x 5” – and it actually has glitter! Every place on the card that has snow also has a light layer of glitter (you can see it in the tree on the right; it appears as yellow/orange dots and smears). For some reason, I thought glitter was a modern day elaboration, but this proves me wrong!

It’s a stunner, isn’t it? I’ve got more in this collection; will post some next week as we move into the Official Christmas Season!

Cast of Characters:

Frances Taylor Sabin and Ethel Wheeler SabinFrances married John Allen Gould; they were my great-grandparents.
Roxanna Wilder Adams Sabin – Frances and Ethel’s mother; my gg-grandmother.
Samuel Gibson Adams – Roxanna’s brother, Police Superintendent, Boston

Back on November 10, I posted a piece about a postcard written in code – a postcard written to Gertrude Wentworth from Burleigh Esancy in 1910. I never posted the decoded message, so here goes:

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel (1777-1826) was born in Lippstadt and settled in Amsterdam. In 1814, while fooling around with pendulums, he discovered that a pendulum that was weighted on both sides of the pivot would keep a steady time: the first metronome!

Unfortunately, he never patented his idea, and in 1816, Johann N. Malzel  “borrowed” Winkel’s concept, added a sliding scale to it (which made it possible to change the tempo), and patented it as the Malzel Metronome, which is still in use today.

This old metronome belonged to my grandfather (the same pediatrician grandfather who carved the Bactrian camel), who was a violinist. My mother (violin) and my aunt (piano) both used it during their practice sessions in the 1920s and 1930s; my aunt went on to teach piano, first at the Department of Music at Colby Junior College (New London, NH), and then privately.

I started piano lessons when I was about ten years old, and this same metronome marked time for me, too. I did my practicing on an old upright piano that tucked in underneath the stairway to the second floor in our house in Maine.  It had a great bench with a lid, and inside I stored my old John Thompson lesson books (remember those?);  they had red covers and blocky white reverse type. I remember an early piece called “Swans on the Lake,” which my father painstakingly learned finger-by-finger to encourage me to practice (he had no musical ability, so it was quite a challenge for him).

My grandfather purchased this John Church Company metronome. John Church Co. was a 19th century publishing company that specialized in sheet music, then branched into other musical supplies – stands, batons, metronomes, etc. There were offices in Cincinnati, New York and Chicago, and I suspect there was a Boston supplier as well, but I cannot be certain.

I found this advertising copy in an old Music Magazine (1897): “The metronome tells you the rate of movement at which you ought to play or sing a piece...tells you whether you are playing your Virgil exercises at the proper speed...the metronome is your rhythmic guide, philosopher and friend, without which at hand for consultation you will be all at sea...”

More than you ever wanted to know, right?

(And, what is a Virgil exercise?)

I’ve seen the metronomes they manufacture today. I prowled around in one of our local music stores and tried a few: they’re pretty disappointing, really. Most of them are battery-operated, plastic gizmos. Some are wireless, pulsating metronomes while others are digital, quartz, with brand names like QuikTime, Dr. Beat, Body Tone...and they all have a mechanical, harsh sound – an unfriendly tone.

If I have to mark time, I’ll do it with my John Church; a rich, warm measure. It soothes me – like the ticking of a clock – and in that sound, I hear my mother, my aunt and my grandfather before me.

They are still here with me, and we are all still marking time.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Another wonderful Sepia Saturday (#153) shot!

Usually I go into Search Mode – flicking through boxes of photos to find one I can use (see my last week’s post), but this theme was an easy one for me – Best Friends!!! I knew exactly where to go to find this photograph: an old cabinet photo album that lives on the top shelf of my living room bookcase!

I’m not sure when this photograph was taken, but I’m guessing it was about 1875 or so, when these two young ladies were in high school in Gardner, Massachusetts. They were best friends – went to grade school and high school together, attended the same church.

On the left, Emma F. Whitman; on the right, Frances Taylor Sabin.

Emma Frances Whitman was born in 1857, daughter of Charles and Viola Whitman.  After her father died, her mother married Edwin Hill; Emma lived with them in Gardner while working in a printing office, until she married schoolteacher James Sullivan Stone Tidd on Christmas Day, 1882. James died on November 23, 1888, at 35 years of age, leaving Emma Tidd a widow. They had no children, and she never remarried. She was still living in the area with her mother in 1910, but at the time of the 1920 census, she was in New York with her nephew and his family.

Frances Taylor Sabin was born January 5, 1857 to Lucius Henry and Roxanna W. Adams Sabin. Her father was a carpenter and served in the Civil War (he couldn’t fire a rifle because he was missing one finger, but he could still build; he was a member of an engineering corps). On September 10, 1884, Frances married John Allen Gould in her family’s living room in Gardner; Emma Tidd was at the wedding (she and her husband James gave the couple a silver pitcher as a wedding gift). John and Frances had six children (you’ve seen a photograph of them on this blog), one of whom – Gardner Sabin Gould – was my grandfather.

Frances and John Allen Gould lived at 1206 Boylston Street in Newton, and Emma visited there frequently.  I have family diaries and letters that mention Emma Tidd; there are a couple of old photographs that have Frances and Emma together, but this cabinet photo was, by far, the best of the bunch. I also have old Christmas cards from her.

Frances Sabin Gould and Emma Whitman Tidd remained friends their entire lives. Frances died January 6, 1943 at the age of 86; I have no date of death for Emma.

NOTE: Be sure to check out

Friday, November 16, 2012



It never fails: I see Alan and Kat’s Sepia Saturday prompt, and start to scramble! I’m into closets, cupboards, old photograph albums, cardboard boxes, slide carousels (remember those?) – all in search of something that will stick to the theme...

I love this week’s prompt from the New York Public Library! It looks like an entire prep school class doing research, but it all boils down to three basic elements: boys, library, books.

I found something that represents two out of three, and that’s not bad – books and a library.

Or, to be more precise, books in a library.

This photograph was taken in the Adult Fiction section of the Curtis Memorial Library (which opened in 1904) in Brunswick, Maine. My novel (Household) is on the left, and my brother John’s novel (The Greenleaf Fires) is on the right.

We think we’re the only brother/sister act in Brunswick with published fiction sitting side-by-side on a shelf in our hometown public library!

My family has a long and dear relationship with Curtis Memorial. John and I both had library cards there, and we both spent a lot of time in that library when we were students at the local high school, back in the early- to mid- 1960s. We did homework there, worked on research projects, met our friends after school for study groups. I, for one, got into trouble in that library (there used to be a reading table into which I tried to carve my initials); I even kissed a boy in the stacks! I’m not sure that John behaved much better, but his secrets are safe...

Later on, my father sat on the Board of Trustees of Curtis Memorial. After he retired, he also spent a certain amount of time there every morning reading the library’s supply of local and national newspapers – he was a newsprint junkie – and met up with a group of his friends for their daily “meeting,” during which, of course, they solved the world’s problems.

When he died (1998), my mother established a trust in his name; the money earned by the Gardner S. Gould Family Trust still buys books on tape and CD. My mother, who had inoperable macular degeneration, listened to them regularly, and I still borrow them for listening in my car.

So, after more than 50 years, I still go there a couple of times a week: I find my father in the reading room, my mother in the audio book section; my brother John and I settled peacefully next to each other in Adult Fiction.

It feels right, feels good; it’s home to me.

NOTE: Be sure to visit to see what themes others have followed this week!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


We probably all went through the “code” phase! I remember creating codes in grade school, usually simple letter substitution (s = a, like the daily cryptoquote in the newspaper) or number codes, where each number stood for a letter of the alphabet (1= a, 2 = b, 3 = c, etc.).  And I vaguely remember a Sci-Fi “decoder” ring that made the rounds – it had two rings of alphabets to make letter-substitution codes easier to transcribe. There were also some cardboard dividers in Shredded Wheat packages that had Native American codes written on them, although I’m pretty sure that was just an advertising scam.

But take a look at this: I found this postcard at a show in Portland, Maine, and bought it instantly – the code looked too good to pass. It took me a while to solve it, but it helps if you know the names of the sendee (Gertrude) and sender (Burleigh). It was mailed on July 29, 1910, in East Union, Maine.

Gertrude Mae Wentworth was born in Hope, Maine, in December of 1890, to Charles M. and Carrie P. Wentworth. By 1910, her family was living in Union, Maine – mother, father, Gertrude and her two sisters, Florence and Olive.

Burleigh Esancy was born in Union in September of 1890, son of William H. and Bertha E. Esancy; his younger sister was Beulah. His WWI draft card describes him as of medium height, medium build, light grey eyes and black hair.

I like to imagine that Burleigh and Gertrude were high school sweethearts – after all, they lived in the same town, their fathers were both farmers, they were probably in the same grade in school. At any rate, whenever their courtship started, it clearly succeeded: Burleigh and Gertrude were married on May 29, 1912. They had several children (Mabel, Bernard, Thelma, twins Agnes & Arlene, Winona, Herman, Arnold).

Burleigh Esancy died in 1967; Gertrude in 1980.

So, good luck with the code; let me know how you do!

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Alan and Kat tossed something unusual into the ring for us all this week, but it took me a while to recognize it!

In the Sepia Saturday #150 photo, there are the obvious themes: men, men in hats, men at sports, playing fields, uniforms – even a single pipe-smoking man in a crowd of men in hats, men at sports, etc.
This’ll be a snap, I thought.
I searched through my old family photos and found lots of suits, hats, men smoking pipes, athletic events and even a couple of shots of playing fields, but nothing seemed to click for me, not really.
And then it hit me.
I went back to the Sepia Saturday site, looked at the photograph again.
“Can you make out what the (albeit reversed) hand-writing says on the right-hand side of this image?” Kat wrote.

Reversed writing?

How about mirror writing!

I found this postcard in a flea market in Maine. It was written in the early 1900s to a young woman named Annie Dyer. It fascinated me so much that I included it in my postcard book, published last spring, and here’s some shameless self-promotion about that book: hop on to my website ( or Amazon and look for Father is here...he’s as fat as a pig.

I’ve enlarged the message to make it easier to read. The first part is easy enough: “Dearest Annie – Just a line this morn. I rec’d your letter and was very glad to hear from that dear little Dyer girl. Annie hold this up to a looking glass and read it.”

It’s the rest of it that’s amazing.

If you’ve got a parent who can mirror-write, then you yourself have a 50% shot at being able to do it. And if you’re left-handed, your chances are better, too. Famous mirror writers? Well, how about Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote lots of his notes in mirror writing; one theory is that it was harder for people to decipher his ideas, another is that he could write faster – he was left-handed, so his hand would smudge the ink as he wrote, and writing right-to-left gave time for the ink to dry without smearing.

So, print the image, then hold it up to a mirror and read the rest of the message to Annie Dyer.
Then give it a try yourself – let me know if we’ve got any mirror-writers out in Sepia Saturday Land!

Note: Be sure to visit to see what connections others have made!


Saturday, October 27, 2012


This is Mr. Camel; he lives in my living room here in Maine.

He seems to have one and one-half humps, which puts me in a difficult position: Most camels have either one or two humps, by which they’re classified as either Dromedary or Bactrian camels.

A Dromedary has a single hump. Dromedaries are more at home in the hot deserts of Arabia.

The Bactrian is the two-humped model, which makes him better suited for the cold deserts in Mongolia. In reality, though, his humps are identical – big, tall humps with a definite valley inbetween – not like Mr. Camel’s.

So: One for a Dromedary, two for a Bactrian.

Now you know.

My maternal grandfather, William W. Howell, was first and foremost a pediatrician (which gives him an excuse, I think, for not being clear on this hump business). He was a Harvard Medical School graduate (Class of 1900), and was associated with at least two hospitals – Infants in Boston, Faulkner in Jamaica Plain). He also had a private practice; his office was at 330 Dartmouth Street in Boston.

One of his off-hour hobbies was woodworking. He made lovely trays (all his grandchildren have at least one each) of varying sizes, made with wonderful woods and small brass screws. He cut, assembled and finished them in his basement; I remember the lovely smell of linseed oil and varnish that drifted up the cellar stairs into the laundry room in my grandparents’ house in Jamaica Plain.

He also made wooden toys to entertain his young patients – mostly pull-toys, cut from plain pine board. His waiting room had several of them, and kids apparently dragged these things all over his oriental carpet and through the doorway into his examining room.

There are two surviving toys: Mr. Camel is one, and my brother John has the other, Mr. Crow, a black bird with moveable wings and a beak that opens and shuts as you pull him across the floor.

Here’s a remarkable Small World Incident: When my parents moved into a house in Maine in the late 1950s, a neighbor came by to introduce herself – an informal Welcome Wagon, you might say. She saw Mr. Camel and Mr. Crow sitting together on a bookshelf in the den and flashed back forty years; she proceeded to tell my mother about her old family pediatrician in Boston who had toys just like that in his waiting room...turned out to be my grandfather, of course!

So, what do you think?

Is my one and one-half humped Mr. Camel a Dromedary or a Bactrian?

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Sepia Saturday #148

Sticking with the theme of policemen, here’s a Big Wig of 1880 or so: Samuel Gibson Adams (1825-1886), Boston, Massachusetts.

He was born in Brighton in November of 1825 to Milton and Esther Gibson Adams; his sister Roxanna was my great-great grandmother. They were two of five children, their mother died when they were very young, and they were farmed out to relatives and neighbors – a common practice at the time. While all of the other Adams children scattered, Samuel and Roxanna stayed in touch throughout their lives.

Samuel grew up in Brighton and Boston, and as an adult lived on Walnut Avenue in the city. He married twice (his first wife died) and had four children, one of whom – Samuel Gibson Adams, Jr. – died at 18 years of “inflammation of the lungs” (probably consumption).

He doesn’t look like a policeman in this photo – no brass buttons, no shield, no funny hat or billy club...but he wore a uniform when he started out as a Boston Police Department sergeant in 1861, a position that kept him out of the army – he managed to stay away from the battlegrounds of the Civil War. (He reminds me of Ulysses S. Grant in this photo, though!)

Sam was, apparently, pretty good at his job – appointed Captain of Station #7 in 1863 and, in 1878, became a Boston Police Superintendent, an office he held until 1885.

This photo was taken when he was a Suit, not a Uniform!
He was also good at keeping in touch with his sister. I have lots of old Christmas cards, Valentines, notes, etc., that he wrote to her over the years. I’ll post some of them later on. She notes in her diaries whenever “Sam” comes to call, usually with a basket of fruit (her favorite? Oranges), a bag of hard candy (which she loved) or some flowers. Sam and his family came to the family house in Newton Upper Falls for dinner often, and it was clearly a relationship that both he and Roxanna valued highly.

Samuel Gibson Adams died May 16, 1886.


Sunday, October 14, 2012


In 1883, a group of New England civil engineers went to Oregon to survey for the railroad. One of them, David Loring, came from Massachusetts, and when the town was incorporated in 1885, he named it after his home town back east – Medford.

Medford offered a perfect climate for fruit trees – grapes, peaches, pears in particular. And, because it was on the railroad line, there was plenty of opportunity to ship the fruit back east. Eventually, due to the incredible local production, Medford was known as the Pear Capital of the World.

Before the 1800s, wooden packing crates and barrels were stenciled for identification: product, producer, or, more often, product only. Pretty simple, really – PEARS.

But when railroads opened up the markets to many different producers, farmers understood that in order to survive in this new market, they needed a way to make their product more attractive to consumers – to make their crate of pears more appealing to customers than any other brand. They had to capture the attention of wholesale dealers who might buy crates of their produce for shipping and distribution.

So they each designed an individual packing label – a bright, colorful paper label with catchy graphics to glue onto the end of the shipping crate – a 10x7-inch marketing tool for promotion, distribution and identification. There were hundreds of orchards, and each one generated its own label. Some brand names you might recognize: Anaco (still around today), American Maid, Diamond, Duckwall (guess what’s on their label?) Federated, Peacock (again, guess...).

And one of them was Medford’s Highcroft Orchards...Piggy Pears.

In the 1950s, the technology caught up with the times: cardboard was being mass-produced; information was printed right on the cardboard instead of having a label stuck on a wooden crate. Cardboard was cheaper, weighed less, and was far more convenient; wooden crates (and their wonderful labels) disappeared.

But I’ve got my Piggy Pear crate – with label – in my house in Maine. Don’t you love her little cloven hooves, her basket, her Mr. Spock ears?

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It’s a face only a mother could love!

Pyrrharctia isabella in the adult stage is a Tiger Moth, but in this stage of the game we call him the Banded Woolly Bear.
I spotted him on one of the slate steps in my walkway, taking a nap, maybe, or just warming up on a cool fall morning.
I had to lie down to photograph him, stretch myself out on the back lawn and push the camera through the grass. He was harder to photograph than I thought: at the slightest provocation, this little guy curled into a ball (more like a tight comma). I had to wait, motionless, while he figured out things were safe enough to unroll, and when he did, he moved lickety-split across the flagstone!
I’d miss the shot, of course; I had to pick him up (he’d curl up instantly), set him gently back on the slate, wait for him to uncurl again.
It took five tries!

The Woolly Bear emerges in the fall. One of its favorite foods is the aster, so I always plant extras, and it also likes sunflowers, grass and clover. It spends the winter under leaves or other plant material; I mulch my lily gardens with lots of straw and compost, so my Woolly Bear population is always high.  
WBs survive the Maine winters by literally freezing solid – no heartbeat, no blood circulation...nothing!
In the spring, after they thaw out, they’re back again, but only for a short while. They spend a week or so feeding, then spin themselves inside a cocoon; the adult moth appears in about thirty days.

Old New England tradition has it that the Woolly Bear is a weather forecaster – the wider the orange-brown segment band in the middle, the milder the winter will be. (I’ve heard that some scientist actually collected data for ten years or so trying to prove this, but I’ve never found his results!)
If there are really thirteen segments to a Woolly Bear, and this fellow has four distinct brown segments (with a little spillover on either end), I’d guess that we’re looking at an average winter this year in Maine – lots of snow and moderately cold. I’m close to the ocean, though, and temperatures here are usually a few degrees warmer than inland.

What are weather predictors in your part of the world?

Friday, September 28, 2012


In response to Alan’s wonderful shot of the three (maybe four) sportsters, may I present this quartet of runners – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) varsity relay team of 1907!

That sturdy fellow second from the left is my grandfather (and Team Captain) Gardner S. Gould, MIT Class of 1907.

Here are some excerpts from that week’s issue of The Tech, the MIT newspaper...

“Victory was the result of the relay team’s trip to the Penn games. Close in every relay, with a fast total time, the best quartette of quarter-milers in years carried off first honors in a mile relay against Wesleyan last Saturday, at Franklin Field, Philadelphia.... Gould got the jump on his man and gained steadily, coming through with a lead of 20 yards. The time for this quarter was 54 4-5 s. Gould relayed to Gimson...” (third from left in the photo).

“The Tech men found the track very slow and much dug up after the many relays. They were also bothered with the high wind on the stretch which slowed down the times in all the events...Tech had a mighty good team, one that every Tech man ought to be proud of.”

“ that every Tech men ought to be proud of?”

Tsk, tsk...

“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”  -- Winston Churchill

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Most of you know that I’m writing another book, a novel that spans roughly a century between the early 1800s and the early 1900s. What you don’t know is that I spend at least an hour every day doing research of some kind or another.

There’s a lot to learn, and not all of it is of the earth-shattering, history-changing variety. Truth told, most of it is pretty slow stuff; clothing, food, farming technology, sheep breeds, crop rotation systems, stone wall physics, different styles of wagons and chaises, etc. But getting it “right” matters – not only to me, but to others who read historical fiction.

This morning I spent an hour or so reading about 19th- and 20th-century American slang – after all, if my characters are going to talk to each other, it’s important that they use the common expressions of their time. Some slang is very clever and funny (but on the saucy side and, therefore, unprintable); some of it is simply puzzling.

Here, presented alphabetically, are some of my favorites:

alley-apple – a piece of horse manure (early 1900s)

dog’s nose – a drink containing beer or ale mixed with gin or rum

duck-fit – a fit of anger, a tantrum (and anybody who’s seen and heard an angry duck knows how descriptive this is!)

floss around – socialize, be seen around town (1920s)

galloping dominoes – dice

high cockalorum – a self-important person (1880s)

hitchy – nervous, agitated

hookshop – a brothel, especially a cheap one (consider the term “hooker”)

megger – a movie director (from the use of a megaphone to yell instructions to actors on set -- 1920s)

Monday man – one who steals clothes from clotheslines (Monday was the traditional washday for housewives)

Noah’s boy with Murphy carrying a Wreath – old lunch-counter term for ham (Ham – get it?) and potatoes with cabbage (1920s)

Snollygoster – somebody who talks a lot but doesn’t say anything (1860s)

weenchy – a little bit, as in “a weenchy” bit of salt, please (1900)

zapped drap – a skirt with a zipper (1940, which is a bit late for my book, but still intriguing)

Your assignment – should you choose to accept it – is to make comments to this post using one (or more) of these terms! And it’s perfectly fine if it’s slangwhang, an 1830s term for...

...absolute nonsense!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Louis Prang was born in 1824 in a Province of the Kingdom of Prussia. His father was a textile manufacturer, and Louis grew up comfortably in that trade, working with his father for many years. After a while, his youthful political activities irritated the Prussian government (he was a bit too revolutionary for his time) and he was forced to emigrate, first to Switzerland, then to Boston in 1850.

He became a fairly successful lithographer, carving wood engravings for book illustrations. He eventually started his own business, L. Prang and Company, working in advertising and other business art. The company also printed maps, some of which were used (by both sides!) during the Civil War.

In 1873, he started printing Christmas cards – he is often referred to as the Father of the American Christmas card – and also manufactured a series of what were called “album cards,” which were used in scrapbooks. (Scrapbooking is nothing new, although the use of the gerund form certainly is trendy: I have several of my great-grandmother’s diaries in which she often mentions an evening spent “pasting scraps.”)  I’ve stumbled across quite a bit of Prang’s work in scrapbooks I’ve found in flea markets and antique shops.  I’ve got a few of his Christmas cards, too, and I’ll post some in December!

Louis Prang relocated his Massachusetts company from Roxbury to Springfield in 1897. He died in 1909 and is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

This card depicting the Muses was one of Louis Prang’s scrap album cards. The Muses were the goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences. They are known collectively as the younger muses, and they influenced poetry, music, tragedy, comedy, dancing, astronomy, astrology, etc.

There were usually nine muses, but this card has ten.

So, which one is the interloper?

Make your guess in your comment, and feel free to be wickedly creative!