I am absolutely charmed by the physical appearance of a recently-preserved “lost” letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel dated a few weeks after his famous April 1775 ride. Its existence has been known for some time, and it was published as a transcription in Elbridge Henry Goss’s Life of Colonial Paul Revere (1891), but the actual document had been presumed lost until very recently, when a box was donated to the Paul Revere House in Boston which included the letter, in a long-folded condition that showed its age. Now digitized and preserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and returned to the house to which it was first delivered, the letter is a visible symbol of the power of primary sources: it is one thing to know what a document says, it’s quite another to see the author’s handwriting. It’s much more intimate (and powerful), especially if the expression includes an endearment like “My Dear Girl” and proceeds to details like a request for linens and stockings. At the end of the letter Revere includes a note to his son, informing him that “It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother, and your self” and signing off “Your loving Father, PR.”
The Letter at the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, where you can see a sequence of images illustrating the preservation process; Paul and Rachel Revere and two 1930s images of their house: an etching by W. Harry Smith, Smithsonian Institution, and a linoleum engraving by Stanley Scott for the Federal Art Project, Boston Public Library.
Yesterday, a perfectly sparkling September Sunday, we hiked around the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, encompassing 66 acres on the Atlantic on a point that looks back (south, west) on both Salem and Boston, and Cape Cod beyond. Owned, operated, and opened to the public by the venerable Trustees of Reservations, the reservation encompasses two parcels of land: Bungalow Hill, offering woodland and vista, and the expanse of “Ocean Lawn” on Coolidge Point, where the Coolidge family’s grand mansion once stood, facing the sea. In between there is Clarke Pond, once stagnant but now re-opened to the sea (and stocked with mosquito-eating fish called mummichog–why don’t we have them in every body of water?) by the Trustees.
From the pond it is an easy walk to the point, which was acquired by Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, the great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson, in 1871 for the site of a summer residence. His son replaced the first Coolidge summer house, apparently a simple clapboard structure, with a “Marble Palace”, designed by Charles McKim and completed in 1904. Not to be confused with the Vanderbilt’s Marble House in Newport (much less the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg), Marble Palace was a brick Georgian structure embellished with marble foundation and columns–it was visited by such luminaries as Presidents Taft, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Wilson and Prince Olav of Norway, but replaced (again) by a smaller building after World War II. This house was torn down in the late 1980s, leaving Ocean Lawn free of human constructions (except for an old fire hydrant): the Coolidge Family donated the property to the Trustees in the early 1990s, though at least one member lives nearby and the family’s presence is also maintained by the adjacent Thomas Jefferson Memorial Center.
Ocean Lawn, Coolidge Point, with only the surviving fire hydrant and an outline of the Marble Palace foundation. The front (seaside) and back entrance of Marble Palace, remains on the rocks, the view of Kettle Island, the modern house next door, looking north (east), the view to the south (west).