Sunday, September 2, 2012


About two weeks ago, I made a stop at one of my favorite flea markets and bought a small collection of newsprint ephemera – a food storage baggie crammed with three folded Boston area newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s: A section of The Boston Sunday Globe and the tabloids The Girls’ Companion and The Boston Sunday Post Fiction Magazine.

And there, on the front page of the April 4, 1943 edition of the fiction magazine, “The Siren Sea,” heralded as A Vivid Serial of Love and Hatred in the South Sea Isles.

Hmmm, I thought, that’s pretty fiery stuff for 1943!

I slipped it out of the baggie and opened it up; I saw the author’s byline just below the fold, and nearly dropped the paper on the floor: Ben Ames Williams!

Williams (1880-1953) was born in Macon, Mississippi, but moved with his parents to Jackson, Ohio, where his father was editor of the local newspaper. In 1904, he was in Newton, Massachusetts, where he attended the Allen School (three of his schoolmates were my great-uncles). He was a member of the Class of 1910 at Dartmouth. After graduation, he went back to the Boston area to work as a stringer for various newspapers, then became a full-time reporter for the Boston American.

That was just his day job.

His real calling was fiction, and he wrote lots of it. Although he collected a box of rejection letters (sound familiar?) he kept at it, and finally published his first story in 1915. The Saturday Evening Post (a big leaguer in the early part of the 20th century) published much of his work, first in 1917, then 150 times more in the next twenty-odd years.

Anyone who reads historical fiction has read one of his most famous works: Come Spring (1940), the fictional account of the settling and founding of a town in Maine (said to be Union, Maine). It’s now out of print, but you can borrow it from the local library and still find copies in used book stores, flea markets and antique shops.

I loved Come Spring. It was the first work of historical fiction I read that did not focus on armies or presidents or land treaties or bloody battles or helpless women. It was, instead, about common people living common lives; about the hard work and determination of ordinary people living in a Maine community more than two hundred years ago.

And that’s my kind of history.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Deb,
    I'm a member of the Searsmont Maine Historical Society and thought that you may appreciate knowing about the book titled Letters from Fraternity (written to Ben Ames Williams by an old New England farmer, Bert McCorrison). We are selling it for $9.95. All sales from the book benefit the historical society. As you may know, Ben Ames Williams wrote Fraternity Village, a collection of stories based on the area around Searsmont, Maine. Let me know if you are interested in learning more. Sincerely,
    Sally Shure