Friday, November 23, 2012

New Exhibit at PHS

If you are as interested in hair art as I am or just want to check out some beautiful Victorian art made by a prominent Brunswick family, be sure not to miss this exhibit at the Pejepscot Historical Society!

Friday, January 13, 2012

To Make A Hair Wreath

Once a Victorian woman had carefully--sometimes obsessively--collected the hair she needed to finish her hair wreath, what was her next step? Turning to the "how-to" books of the time, most of today's readers would have been frustrated by the lack of detail. 

Take, for example, the 1859 book Art Recreations: Being a Complete Guide. The authors, Levina B. Urbino & Professor Henry Day, present their instruction for creating the different flowers of a hair wreath in ridiculously vague terms. To make a daisy or aster, the hair wreath maker was told to "turn this looped wire round and round to present a flat surface; make firm by fine wire underneath." Other than that, they provide no specific instruction. Instead, they tell the reader that "It is well to have a pattern. If you can not see hair flowers, take natural ones, and by fastening strands of hair to a wire, and binding with floss, endeavor to imitate Nature". Basically, Urbino & Day pawn the reader off onto finding a hair wreath--or a person--from which they can copy. 

The title page of Urbino & Day's book Art Recreations. The book instructs the reader in a variety of fancy work skills, such as drawing, painting, papier mache, leather work and even taxidermy! The entire book is free to read & search on Google--just click here.
In fact, that's probably how most women learned how to make hair wreaths in the first place--not from magazines like Godey's Lady's Book or Harper's Magazine or books like Urbino & Day's --but other women. Like many other fancy work skills, like sewing, painting or embroidery, being able to create a hair wreath was a skill passed from woman to woman. Strangely, because the hair wreath craze really only lasted for 30 years (from 1850 to 1880), knowledge of creating hair wreaths did not cross many generations. Rather, women of the time probably learned how to make these unique creations from their contemporaries--friends, sisters, aunts, and cousins. Because hair wreaths became so unpopular so quickly, it is unlikely mothers were teaching the passé skill to their daughters after 1900. Indeed, the dearth of hair wreaths from post-1900 supports this idea. 

Hair wreath created by the women of Hope, Maine during the 1860s--now on display at the Hope Historical Society House. Image is from their website
Though we addressed some issues of collecting hair to create a hair wreath in the last post, there are a couple more things to note. Once hair was gathered--be it from a living person or a dead one--it could be saved for later by sealing it in paper with wax melted over a flame. Though accounts differ, this may be what poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's second wife, Frances Appleton, was doing when her dress caught fire in July 1861. Longfellow tried to put her out, but her burns were too severe and she died the next morning. Longfellow himself received burns on his face so serious that he could no longer shave, and thus grew the beard for which he is so recognizable today. 

Another neat tidbit about hair wreaths? Brown was the most popular hair color! As explained by Alexanna Speight in her 1871 book about hair work, The Lock of Hair:
 We certainly thought golden reigns supreme, but it would appear not to be so. Among the better classes of English people, however, brown is said to be the prevailing color; but then our population is made up of some many races that we have all sorts of hair.
Speight goes on to explain that it all has to do with being marriageable--red heads, blondes and those with light brown hair did not marry as often as those with dark brown or black hair did! Though her statistics are certainly questionably, there is certainly no shortage of brown hair in the hair wreaths we find today!

Bell, C. Jeanenne. Collector's Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry: Indentification & Values. Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books, 1998. 
Hope Historical Society website.  
McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2005.
Speight, Alexanna.  The Lock of Hair. 1871.
Urbino, L.B. & Henry Day. Art Recreations: Being A Complete Guide. Boston: S.W. Tilton & Co., 1859.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mourning Art: Hair Work

Hair wreaths, the subject of one of the most popular posts on this blog, deserve more attention. In the next few posts, I'll be writing about hairwork & hair wreaths.

Like so many other quirks of Victorian society, we can credit the popularity of hair art (aka hairwork) during this time to Queen Victoria. Not only did the English queen help standardize many Victorian era mourning practices, she started a craze with hair tokens. When her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861, Victoria spent the last 40 years of her life in deep mourning over the loss. To memorialize her beloved Albert, she carefully preserved locks of his hair and had the royal jeweler, Garrad, work the snippets into at least 8 different pieces of jewelry. She even reportedly required that her 8 year-old son wear "a Locket with beloved Papa's hair" around his neck. 

Brooch  of brown, basket-weave hair. From the Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry website, which offers pieces like this for sale (this one is currently priced at $110).
But Victorians did not stop at jewelry. They found increasingly creative ways to turn hair into unexpected objects or to work precious locks into other forms of art. Between 1850 and 1916 strands of hair were woven, braided and shaped into baskets, tea pot sets, cups, mourning pictures of willow trees and urns, and even purses. Perhaps the most ridiculous item of all was the "full-length, life-size portrait of Queen Victorian, executed entirely in human hair" which "proved particularly popular" at the 1855 Paris Exposition. Alas, I have been unable to find a picture or drawing of this impressive sample of hairwork!
Hair flowers, created by wrapping hair around wire, were one form of hairwork--many flowers like these were required to create a hair wreath. On the paper below the flowers is written in pen: "Hair flowers. Probably made in 1845 or 1850." From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1986.27.2.
Nowadays, any reasonable person may ask: "Why did Victorians make all these different art pieces out of hair?" First and foremost, hair is a physical piece of the deceased, something that does not age, change or disintegrate over time like the rest of the human body does. This makes it a wonderful memorial and perfect for all of the mourning rites and practices of the day. Additionally, Victorian women created many different kind of fancy work--embroidery, painting, needlepoint, sewing, shellwork, beading and wax modelling are all examples. Hair was a perfect material to add to a woman's repertoire, since it could be woven, painted, shaped, sewn and otherwise adapted into all kinds of art forms. 
This beautiful, undated snippet of dark brown hair has been braided into a small circle, perhaps for later use in a piece of hairwork but most likely to simply serve as a souvenir. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1971.19.21.
A Victorian woman who was working on a hair wreath, hair brooch or other piece of hairwork could spend years collecting enough samples to complete her desired project. Pieces like the one pictured above could be gathered from a person at any age--for example, one lock of hair in the Pejepscot's collection is attributed to a 3 year-old, while another snippet came from an 18 year-old woman and was passed down to her granddaughter in 1883. Some professional hairworkers recommended using only "live hair, that is, hair from the head of a living person" for such work--advice that at least one Mainer listened to. In 1862 J.P. Ireland wrote to his son, who was serving in the 22nd Maine Infantry during the Civil War, that "Your mother says when your hair is long enough, to send her a lock, that she can put into a hair wreath."

Yet most hair art served as mourning art, and for many reasons hair was taken from the recently deceased's body. After all, not only was the living person no longer in need of their long tresses, but large sections of hair could be taken without affecting the person's sense of vanity. What more appropriate way to memorialize the dead by taking one last piece to remember them by?

Bell, C. Jeanenne. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry: Identification & Values. Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books, 1998.
Green, Harvey. The Light of the Home: An Intimate View of the Lives of Women in Victorian America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983.
Hunter, D. Lyn. “A Victorian Obsession With Death: Fetishistic Rituals Helped Survivors Cope With Loss of Loved Ones.” Berkeleyan.
Lutz, Deborah. “The Dead Still Among Us: Victorian Secular Relics, Hair Jewelry, and Death Culture.” Victorian Literature and Culture 39 (2011): 127-142.
Ofek, Galia. Representations of Hair in Victorian Literature & Culture. Burlington, Vermont. Ashgate Publishing Co., 2009.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Odd Backyard Discovery From 1938

Below I've transcribed two articles from the 1938 Brunswick Record about the discovery of a tombstone in a family's backyard. Though the story and mystery are interesting in their own right, a few other things are notable about these articles. As you read, follow the path that information spreads in Brunswick--and across New England--at this time. Small town life, where everyone knows everyone else, is clearly evident here. There are also many different people who contribute to the search for the truth about the gravestone--interestingly, they are almost all women. I've added a few comments with information I was able to uncover in brackets throughout. If you have information about the Harding family, replacing gravestones, or something else to add, please be sure to comment!

From The Brunswick Record, April 28, 1938, pages 1 & 4 (with original spelling & punctuation):

Who Can Shed light On Who He Was And Where He Was Actually Buried?
Original caption from The Brunswick Record: "These youngsters found a tombstone when they dug a hole back of a building on Page street. They are: Gilbert and Peter Vermette in the hole, and at the rear, left to right, Charles Vermette, Eugene Donahue, and Donald Lincoln."
Digging a hole, as boys will, a group of Page street children last week uncovered a buried tombstone, which occasioned much conjecture in that vicinity. 

The tombstone bore the legend "Capt. Samuel Harding, 1805." Mrs. Albert Vermette, mother of the two boys who first found the stone, conducted some research that morning to find out who Capt. Harding was, but was unsuccessful.

The Vermettes lived at 15 Page street, the old Ted Dolan place, alongside which a store was formerly operated. Almost under the building that housed the store the youngsters dug up the stone. They were out back of the building, in some bushes, digging a trench for some juvenile warfare, and at first thought they had found a grindstone.

They continued to dig, no longer interested in a trench, and at length found this stone, standing up-right as it might have stood if the captain's grave was right there.

They removed it from the hole, rigging up a sort of derrick with ropes, and prying with poles. They put it in a cart, and hauled it over to the house and exhibited it to their mother.

Mrs. Vermette immediately wondered if the actions of her children had desecrated some unknown grave, and she hastened to the office of Town Clerk John W. Riley to see what the town records had to say in respect to Capt. Samuel Harding.

The name was of course immediately recognized as a good old-fashioned Brunswick name, and Clerk Riley scanned his records with every expectation of finding something about him. However, his records show nothing of the birth, marriage, death, or place of burial of  Samuel Harding. The only thing he could find were the records of the birth of some of the captain's children. 

In this connection it was learned that the captain had a wife, Joanna, and that they produced a fine lot of children with typical Yankee names--mostly Biblical. Richard Harding, the eldest, was born in 1782. Ephraim followed in 1784, Sophia in 1786, Nathaniel in 1788, Salome in 1791, and Nehemiah in 1794. Then, according to the stone itself, the captain must have died in 1805.

Of course the records of vital statistics in those days were not accurately kept. Many people who figured prominently in Brunswick in those days are not mentioned in the vital records at all. So it is scarcely important that the captain was neglected.

A few years ago a group of Bowdoin College students, working on a NYA project, studied tombstones in Brunswick cemeteries, and left a report of their findings with the Town Clerk. Mr. Riley thought that perhaps some record of the Captain might be in that book, and that his stone might have been moved. It was thought that this Page street home might even be the one that the monument maker had spoiled in making, and that a duplicate existed. No record could be found, however.

There is also this possible explanation. Ted Dolan, who was highway commissioner in Brunswick for some years, might have filled in that lot with debris and rubbish he picked up almost anywhere. In hauling in material he might have included this old stone, and dumped it to be covered with dirt. The boys found old keys, chains, and a variety of other old objects nearby which showed that some dumping went on there at one time or another. 

Joe Dolan, who was also visited by Mrs. Vermette, couldn't offer any explanation about his brother's place, but though it likely that the stone was brought there and dumped. This would signify that it was probably a stone found somewhere, possibly one spoiled in manufacture.

There is, however, the possibility that a small private cemetery existed on that location a century and more ago, and that it was covered over in later years. 

The fact that there is but one stone might indicate that it was not completed. Usually the birth and death dates are on a stone. If the captain died in 1805 it might be that the stone maker carved that date first, and then made another stone which had the birth date first. If this is so, the question follows, where is the other stone?

Maybe some reader of the Record, or someone versed in old Brunswick matters, can supply some information. The stone isn't much good, if it doesn't mark the captain's grave. Mrs. Vermette feels that it should be left where the children found it.

In the meantime a fit of excavation has struck the children in that neighborhood. Several others have come forward to help the two Vermette boys who first found the stone, and most of the shovels in that vicinity are hard at work.

From the following week's issue of The Brunswick Record, May 6, 1938, pages 1 & 6:

Record's Story Last Week Brings Facts From His Great, Great Granddaughter In Massachusetts

Captain Samuel Harding, deceased, has been found, but the mystery is by no means cleared up. 

Last week the Vermette boys at 15 Page street dug up a tombstone in their back yard, and it said on it, "Capt. Samuel Harding, 1805."

In the week that has passed since the Record reported this "find," the Captain has been located, through the gracious aid of his great-great-granddaughter who now lives in Brookline, Mass.

She is Mrs. Sally Rogers Beaman, and she and her sister, Miss Helen Rogers, read the article in last week's Record. She immediately wrote to Town Clerk John W. Riley and told him that Capt. Harding is buried in Pine Grove cemetery. Mr. Riley wrote Mrs. Beaman a thank-you letter for her information, and promptly turned the letter over to the Record.

An investigation shows that Capt. Samuel Harding is buried in the older section of Pine Grove cemetery, on the first avenue beyond the Delta pines, in the fifth lot on the left off Bath street. A heavy iron fence surrounds the lot.

There are four stones in the lot--the first of which is to Captain Harding's memory. It is a white marble stone, somewhat effaced by weather. At its top is a weeping willow tree, and beneath the wording is as follows, "Capt. Samuel Harding, who departed this life September 19, 1805, in the 68th year of his age."

The stone that the boys dug up on Page street was of slate, and bore simply the name and the date of 1805. The slate stone today is actually in a better state of preservation than the marble stone. Slate tombstones are usually older than marble or granite stones. [Another resident of Pine Grove, Lemuel Swift--buried very near Samuel Harding--has two stones as well. One is an older slate stone and the second a more grand obelisk. Interestingly, in Swift's case both tombstones remain in Pine Grove. To learn more, check out the blog post I wrote about Lemuel Swift here.]

The stone of Joanna, the captain's wife, is beside his [Born 1751, died 1827. Like her husband, she was  born in Truro, MA and died in Brunswick. Samuel was her second husband, which lends credibility to the idea that Samuel had been married before, too--see below]. A taller stone is erected to Robert Harding who died in 1850, and beside it is one to Salome J. Harding, who died in 1862.

There have developed several theories as to the reason for the two stones. Perhaps the most plausible is this: Capt. Harding was originally buried in an outlying cemetery, or a family yard on the farm. Later he was moved to the village cemetery. At that time the old stone was discarded and a new one made for the sake of uniformity. Perhaps the older slate stone was carried to the monument maker, and from it he made the new stone. After the new stone was set, the old one was discarded. This is especially plausible because the monument works in long-ago Brunswick were not far from the old Dolan, or the present Vermette home on Page street. 

Or possibly, if the captain was originally buried in Pine Grove, his first stone was discarded to allow the second one to match that of his wife. The second stone is unquestionably a more ornamental job. 

At any rate, Capt. Harding is buried now in Pine Grove cemetery, and his grave is suitably marked. This leaves the Vermette boys with a perfectly good stone for which there doesn't seem to be much need at present.

Miss Blanche Bryant at Chandler's store, an authority on old Brunswick burial places and the families of the early town, adds that a Samuel Harding, Jr., is reposing in a cemetery near Harding's section of town, and that apparently his mother's name was Mary. This injects a further note of mystery into the matter, explained most easily by the supposition that the elder Samuel had two wives. Whether or not this is true does not appear from any information at hand.

Mrs. Florence Townsend of Topsham recalls that when she was a little girl in Yarmouth a Capt. Richard Harding lived in that village, and that it is her recollection that he was a son of Capt. Samuel. His age, she says, would make it just right, as he would be 166 years old if living today. 

To Mr. Riley and Mrs. Beaman the record is especially grateful. Its thanks also go to Miss Byrant and Mrs. Townsend. It appears that the mystery has been partially solved, although supposition must be relied on to explain away the stone now the property of the Vermette boys.

Mrs. Beaman reports that she has now the receipt of $200 for the perpetual care of the cemetery lot in Pine Grove. In 1911 the time the receipt was given, the trustees of the cemetery were E.H. Woodside, Isaac Danforth, and John S. Towne.

The Harding Family plot in Pine Grove Cemetery. Located in the second row from the right (under the tree), it is notable for being the only one in the cemetery with an iron fence surrounding it. The grave pictured furthest right is Samuel's; to the left of that is his wife Joanna's, which bears the epitaph "An humble Christian, a happy mother. Her virtues more lasting than the marble monument are deeply engraved on the hearts of her children"; the obelisk to the left of Joanna's stone is a monument to Robert Harding and also located in the plot, but not pictured here, is the grave of Salome J. Harding.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Capt. Abby & Capt. John Pennell

It is certainly a tough assignment to tackle a biography of 2 people who are so interesting that a Pulitzer-prize winning author has already beaten you to the task. But despite the full and justified treatment Abby Reed Pennell & John D. Pennell received at the hands of Robert P.T. Coffin in his book Captain Abby & Captain John, here we go anyway!

Abby (sometimes spelled "Abbie") J. Reed was born on August 22, 1835 on Orr's Island in Harpswell to Arthur Reed (1809-1879) and Elizabeth Jacobs Reed (1807-1899). Growing up in what is now the oldest house on the island and granddaughter to an Orr for whom her birthplace was named, Abby had quite a family history to live up to. Though her father's side of the family made careers as sea captains--a career Abby's brother Elias followed as well--she was probably not prepared for how her own life would be spent on the ocean.

Abby Reed Pennell's childhood home still stands today, a Colonial built in 1756 by Joseph Orr. In 1784 it was one of only 2 houses listed on the island, along with a number of "logg camps." Harriet Beecher Stowe mentioned this house with it's distinctive gambrel roof in her book The Pearl of Orr's Island. From the Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1982.28.2.53.
Like his future wife, John D. Pennell was also born into a seafaring family. Pennells had been living and building ships in Pennellville, Brunswick for nearly 50 years when John was born there on April 14, 1828. One of 8 boys & 3 girls born to Jacob (1778-1841) and Deborah Dunning Pennell (1780-1861), John grew up in a Cape Cod-style house built in 1794. Though his father had died by the time he turned 13, John followed him into the shipbuilding business and helped manage the Pennell Brothers shipyard with his cadre of siblings. The shipyard, which reached its heyday from 1834-1874, was cited as "one of the largest of the century" (whether this refers to the acreage, number of ships launched, or some other measure is unclear!).

Interestingly, John's first trip to sea (at age 24) was not on a Pennell ship but another Brunswick family's, the Skolfields. After that, however, John stayed within the family, working in the yard to build the United States in 1855, of which he would become First Mate. He returned to Brunswick in 1857 and, on December 3 of that year, married Abby. As Coffin describes the young couple in his book, "They were both serious-minded, rather soberish & very sure all things were right in the sky, and would turn our for the best, on every part of the sea." (86)

Though there journeys together on the sea would not begin until after they had been married a year (John spent the year away from his new wife, sailing across the oceans), John's new position as captain of the William Woodside meant that Abby finally had a place on board. The couple set sail in 1859 and spent the next 19 years together on the sea. Though she kept herself busy with knitting, sewing, needlepoint, cooking, reading, learning navigation from her husband, embroidery and even shopping while they were in port, Abby suffered from seasickness and never fully adapted to the constant motion of the ship. But Abby was determined to be by her husband's side, later writing "I often think of my feelings when John went away, when we were first married, and left me at home. I said then, if he lived to get back again, he never would go without me again. And he never has so far. And I don't think he ever will." (183)

After the William Woodside, Abby & John moved to the Deborah Pennell (named for his mother) when John earned the captain's position on that ship in 1861. It was on this ship that the couple's first child, a son, was born on September 5, 1862. Sadly, the baby died just a few weeks later on September 22 after being "sick with convulsions" (208-209). Wishing to bury their baby in their plot in Pine Grove Cemetery back home in Brunswick, Abby & John took the unusual step of preserving their son's body in a barrel of rock salt, "salt pickle" and liquor, then lashing the barrel to the mainmast. A year after his death, the unnamed boy was sent back to Brunswick on another ship. When the body arrived in Brunswick, the barrel was opened--and despite all the efforts the couple had made to preserve the tiny corpse, it was in such poor condition that immediate burial was necessary.

The footstone of Abby & John's unnamed son, buried in Pine Grove after being crudely preserved in a barrel of brine for a year.

Despite their grief for their loss, Abby & John continued their travels, ultimately making it around Cape Horn (tip of South America) 7 times, the Cape of Good Hope (tip of Africa) 4 times and completely around the globe once. Along the way, the couple had 2 more sons-- Arthur Reed (1864-1903) & John "Freddie" Frederick (1870-1958)--both of whom would later graduate from Yale. John Frederick would later share his parent's diaries, letters and other papers with Robert P.T. Coffin, who used them as the source material for his book about Abby & John.

Abby & John's life voyage together ended on July 5, 1878 in Rio de Janeiro. John was captaining the Benjamin Sewall and had been feeling unwell for over a year since hitting his head during an earthquake while off the coast of South America. After experiencing severe headaches and fever, he died in a Rio hospital with Abby by his side. Learning from their earlier attempt with their first son, Abby had John's body professional embalmed and traveled back to Brunswick with it and her two boys. Once they were home, a service was held for John (with Alpheus Spring Packard providing the funeral sermon) and he was buried with his unnamed son in Pine Grove Cemetery.

Close-up of Pennell family monument, showing John's birth & death dates. This obelisk stone is located in the 8th row from the right, near the flag pole.
Abby lived a long life and watched as her 2 sons grew into successful careers (though she would lose another son, Arthur, in 1903). She died in Edgewater, New Jersey on February 23, 1909 and was brought back home to be buried with her husband & children in the granite-curbed family plot--the final resting place of a remarkable seafaring family.

The last ship the couple would sail together, the Benjamin Sewall, also met a tragic demise. To learn more about the ship's October 5, 1903 run ashore in Taiwan and the resulting international incident, follow this link.
The Benjamin Sewall under construction in the Pennell Brothers shipyard, circa 1874. Pejepscot Historical Society, acc# 1983.72.1.
"Abbie J. Pennell." The Brunswick Record. 12 March 1909, page 4.
"Capt. John D. Pennell." Brunswick Telegraph. 2 August 1878, page 2.
"Capt. John D. Pennell." Brunswick Telegraph. 16 August 1878, page 2.
Coffin, Robert P.T. Captain Abby & Captain John, 1939. Pejepscot Historical Society, acc#1982.97.118.
Falconer, Deborah Pennell. Pennell Family Geneaological Trees. Pennell Vertical File, Pejepscot Historical Society.
"From the Falls to the Bay: A Tour of Historic Brunswick, Maine." 1980.
Historic Preservation Survey card for the Kitridge House. Pejepscot Historical Society.
"John D. Pennell." Brunswick Telegraph. 12 July 1878, page 3.
"Mrs. Abbie J. Pennell." The Brunswick Record. 26 February 1909, page 8.