Tag Archives: Massachusetts Historical Society

1918

I like to run through Salem’s larger cemeteries because I’m not the best runner so I really don’t want a (live) audience. Last weekend I did something to my back, so instead of jogging yesterday morning, I was walking around Greenlawn Cemetery rather awkwardly. I would not call this exercise, as I had to stop and read nearly every gravestone I passed by, and at one point, I found myself right in the midst of a collection of graves of people who had all died in 1918. They were not related; the only thing they had in common was the year of their death. None were very old, and most were quite young. Almost immediately—as I looked all around in this one little section of a large urban cemetery and saw that year everywhere I turned—I realized that this was a special moment, during which I could grasp just a semblance of how horrible that early fall was exactly 100 years ago, when young men were far away fighting a terrible war while also falling victim to a plague of influenza that was attacking the home front at the same time. I’m not sure that all the markers with 1918 inscribed on them testify to deaths by war or flu (although I will find out), but just for that moment, I could feel the magnitude of the loss–and assault—by both forces.

1918 3

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1919 9

The city of Salem has a “Veterans’ Squares” program through which intersections across the city are named after veterans who lived nearby. I happen to live near “Trask Square”, named in honor of Private George C. Trask, who died of pneumonia (often the end game of the flu) in Angers, France; his fellow Salemite Wallace C. Upton also died of disease much closer to home, in the Chelsea Naval Hospital. At precisely this time a century ago, influenza was raging in Boston and schools, churches, theatres, and even bars had been closed. The Massachusetts Historical Society has a great blog post featuring the diary of a young Salem wife and mother named Edith Coffin Colby Mahoney whose life changed quickly from late summer outings to the Willows to notices of deaths and “epidemics everywhere” from August to September 1918. She was right: as least 50 million* people died of the “Spanish Influenza” worldwide and perhaps 5000 people in Boston, which was the third hardest-hit American city after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In a report issued on this very date in 1918, the U.S. Public Health Service records the number of Salem flu cases at 1500, confirming Miss Colby’s impressions recording in her diary on September 26: “Torrential rain for 24 hours beginning at 3am today, some thunder in the P.M.. Most depressing day after bad news from Eugene. He died at 6:40am. Several thousand cases in the city with a great shortage of nurses and doctors. Theatres, churches, gatherings of every kind stopped. Even 4th Liberty Loan drivers parade postponed.”

And the city was still bearing the scars of the great fire just four years before……BUT the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

*I’m going with the CDC estimate; some are much higher. (https://www.cdc.gov/features/1918-flu-pandemic/index.html)

 


A Revolutionary Apothecary in Salem

Most of the students in my summer Research & Writing Seminar are pursuing local history topics related to the Revolutionary War and just after: conscription, taxation, the disruption to business, the involvement of African-Americans, Tories. This bunch seems to be drawn to that era like moths to a flame, and with the lack of local resources, we have had to be resourceful. Fortunately we have some good databases at Salem State, they are bound for repositories in Boston and elsewhere, and we’ve all enjoyed the wonderful Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. site at the Massachusetts Historical Society. But once again, this foraging illustrates how hurtful the withdrawal of the Salem sources in the Phillips Library has been to our local academic and educational community. Supposedly the Library in Rowley will be open next week, and perhaps professional historians will journey up to explore its resources, but I fear it will remain inaccessible to most of my students. The lack of digitization still rankles, especially when compared to the wonderful Dorr site. I promised I wouldn’t post on PEM and the Phillips until we had some course-changing event, but obviously I can’t help myself. Still, enough: let’s move on to more responsible repositories.

Take care if you delve into the MHS’s Dorr database: hours will be devoured. The combination of Dorr’s own annotations and the quality and navigability of the images is addictive. My students are drawn to the news, the opinion, and the “big” topics, but I love the advertisements towards the end of the papers. If I were in their place, I think I’d write my paper on the Salem apothecary Jonathan Waldo, whose conspicuous advertisements crowd out everything for me, even the imminent war.

Waldo 1

Assize of Bread

Waldo 2The Essex Gazette of April 18, 1775, via the Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Jonathan Waldo (1756-1817) was a major Salem apothecary in the later 18th century, at one time in partnership with William Stearns and later on his own. His particular business mandated a large quantity of imports among his stock, as most British patent medicines were just that: British patent medicines. In the next (April 25) edition of the Essex Gazette, Waldo advertised goods imported in the last Ships from London: was that it for his business?

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Apparently not. Nearly all of his account books are in the Phillips Library, of course, but fortunately a classic secondary text, George Griffenhagen’s and James Harvey Young’s Old English Patent Medicines in America (1959) mined them to establish that Waldo’s business survived through the Revolution through a dual strategy of continuing to import apparently-contraband British medicine and concocting his own American substitutions. Waldo’s business endured even as he served as a Major of the Salem Militia during the Revolution and the major administrator of the restoration of the renamed Fort Pickering (previously Fort William) on Winter Island after. His post-revolutionary account book, digitized by Harvard University for its Countway Library of Medicine, confirms his thriving—and diversified—business. Indeed, the Revolution seems to have inspired “innovation” and reaped more profits for Waldo, who notes that the popular British elixir Turlington’s Balsam of Life was very dear even after the war was over, but “his own” recipe was increasingly popular with his customers due to its lower price.

Waldo Harvard

Waldo collage

Waldo Turlington's Balsam textWaldo, Jonathan, 1756-1817. Account book of Jonathan Waldo, 1788-1794 (inclusive). B MS b265.1, Countway Library of Medicine; Waldo managed to import a large supply of the popular Female Pills by Dr. John Hooper from London in 1777–along with a supply of Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Duke Digital Repository, History of Medicine Collections.


One Woman’s War

As part of the World War I centennial commemorations which are slowly taking shape in the US and in full flight over there in Europe, the Massachusetts Historical Society has assembled an exhibition entitled Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War, the centerpiece of which are the nearly 250 photographs taken by Newton textile heiress Margaret Hall, who left her comfortable life in the summer of 1918 to take up work at a Red Cross canteen in France. Hall was 42 at the time, but she had been a history major at Bryn Mawr, and it is very clear to me–from both her photographs and their captions and the letters assembled in the accompanying book Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: the World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall (ed. by Margaret R. Higonnet with Susan Solomon)– that she felt honor-bound to record the devastation of the Great War. And that she did. Her photographs, which have all been digitized on the MHS website, fall into roughly three categories: life at the canteen, troop movements, and the ravages of war–the latter images include the French countryside, leveled cities (Ypres!!!! Verdun), and the battlefields, which look like wasteland and are labeled as such. She takes us (literally) into the trenches and shows us all the captured German ammunition: my favorite image is of a celebratory Paris at war’s end where a pile of German guns is topped by a triumphant French rooster. Hall takes care to show both life and death in the closing months of the war, and from her American perspective she clearly grasps the fact that this was the first world war, bringing men (and women) from all over the globe to live (and die) in France.

Just a few of Margaret Hall’s photographs:

One woman's War I

French troops on the march.

One woman's War 2

“Miss Mitchell in her Garden”: Hall’s colleagues at the Red Cross canteen in Châlons-sur-Marne.

One woman's war 3 Six Nationalities

“Six Nationalities” at the Canteen.

One Woman's War 4 Our Sausage Balloon

“Our Sausage Balloon”

One Woman's War 5 Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral, “France triumphant rising out of her ruins”

One Woman's War 7 Verdun

Outside Verdun.

One Womans War 5 Americans

Americans.

One Woman's War 8 Cemetery

“U.S.A. National Cemetery, Romagne–Argonne, June 1919”.

One Woman's War 9 Cock

 “Cock crowing for Victory“, Paris 1919.


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