Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Praise of Historic House Museums: The Wing Fort House, c.1640

Sunday, September 21, 2014
Isabella reporting,

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are more than 15,000 historic house museums in America - which is more house museums than McDonald's restaurants (14,267 in 2013, if you're counting.)

A recent article in the Boston Globe suggested that there are perhaps too many of them, and that there had to be better ways to make use of historic houses than opening them to the public as museums. This met with a surprising amount of public indignation, but the truth is that people love these small, local museums in a way that they'll never feel about the Met or the Smithsonian.

I know I do. The lure of an old house with a historic marker beside the front door is nearly irresistible to me. Last month I visited one of my favorites on Cape Cod, the Wing Fort House, above left, in Sandwich, MA. The earliest portions of the house were built in the 1640s – only twenty years after the Pilgrims landed – which gives it status as the oldest home lived in continuously by a single family in New England. That family is the Wings, whose name is still attached to the house; the "fort" part comes from historical tradition that the house was originally built with fortified walls in case of attacks by Native Americans.

And that, really, is what has earned this house a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It's not an outstanding example of early architecture. No crucial battles took place on its grounds. No Wing became president. One member of the Wing family in the mid-18th c. prospered sufficiently to enlarge the house to its present size in 1760, but that's about all. It's simply a large New England farmhouse that hasn't changed much in the last three centuries. In fact, the last Wing to live here (into the 1940s) did so without modern conveniences like electricity.

Still owned today by the Wing Family of America, the house is maintained as a family heritage site, with displays of family papers and documents. The furnishings were all donated by the family, and are an eclectic mix, as is often the way in house museums. There are 19th c. hooked rugs, made by a seafaring Wing on long voyages, grim-faced portraits and porcelain teapots, toys and arrowheads and spinning wheels (because every old house museum in New England has spinning wheels and arrowheads.)

Most of all, all those Wings left something more valuable than any antiques. Like every house museum, this one carries the intangible essence of all the people who were born, lived, and died within its walls. Memories and experiences are powerful things, and – not to be too woo-woo here – it's easy to feel the presence of all those long-gone generations of Wings while walking through their house.

There's also one tiny feature of this house that's breathtaking because it's so rare. Because the house was so little changed over the years, it still had its original painted floor in the parlor. Designs were painted on 18th c. floors to mimic patterned carpets, but few survived due to wear and changing tastes.

Alas, well-meaning "restorers" in the 1950s believed that bare floorboards were more "colonial", and the painted designs were removed. The restorers, however, missed one little square of the floor that had been covered inside a later cupboard, right - a tantalizing hint of how impressive that original painted floor must have been.

All photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 15, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014
For your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of our fav links to other websites, blogs, images, and articles, collected via Twitter.
• "The make of his shoulders pleases me vastly": eight ill-advised reasons for getting married, 1792.
• King Silence: the lives of Victorian deaf children.
• When is a London street not a street?
• "Nothing exists but Thoughts!" the literature of laughing gas.
• Abandoned medieval villages seen from the air - and what they can teach us.
Keeping clean in the 18th c.
• Fashion styles & men's suit silhouettes in the 1930s.
Image: A World War One signature quilt, c1915; money collected from the signatures went to the UK's war effort.
• The Chinese Festival and the 1754 Riot at Drury Lane Theatre.
• The legendary ex-pats of Tangiers and their colorful homes.
• A sumptuous embellished "going away" dress for an 1870s bride.
Image: Removing the mat on this old photo reveals the lovely hidden 19th c. woman, unseen since the day of framing.
• Jack the Clipper - plus a rare Jacqueline: stealing hair for fun or profit.
• "Do take me to see the Pictures again": 1910s photo postcards show romantic possibilities of a visit to early cinema.
• Procuring pepper, a most important spice in early trading.
Video: making 18th c style mushroom ketchup.
• How to entertain with impromptu fruit sculpture, 1906.
Image: Dramatic lighting gives sculptural effect to an 1870 corset.
• Dog Days of summer with painter Mary Cassatt.
• The women behind one of the world's first computers.
• Beautiful embroidered dress given to Queen Victoria in the 1850s.
• Seventeenth-century spot sampler embroidered by daughters of Henry Chichester of Arlington, Devon.
• The world's oldest beehive discovered in a Scottish chapel.
Sophia Baddeley, 18th c courtesan, actress, and A-list celebrity.
• The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years.
• "They glory in their infamy"; who else but pirates?
Image: 1838-1842 American cotton petticoat and chemise with eyelet borders.
• The myth of brushing your hair 100 times at night - or is it?
• Leggy ladies: 18th c attitudes towards legs.
• The British painters who were witness to World War Two.
• Stephen King has named his most hated expressions. What are yours?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday video: Boston accent explained

Friday, September 19, 2014
Loretta reports:

I mostly shed my Wustah* accent sometime between high school and college, but it can pop up at times, startling me.  If I try to speak Wustah deliberately, though, I trip over my tongue.  It’s been a few centuries since high school, and while my present speech might be an acquired language, I’ve spoken it for longer than the original.

The Wustah and Boston accents probably sound the same to people from outside New England, but most natives can distinguish between them.  While this video (not as sharp as I’d wish, but the content compensates) stays rather more general, it points out some interesting links between the New England accent and that of certain regions of England.

After this, you might want to take a look at a previous post dealing with British Accents.

*Worcester, MA

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Elizabeth Bull's Embroidered Neckerchief, c. 1735

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Earlier this summer I visited The Bostonian Society in Boston, MA to view a very special 18th c. embroidered wedding dress; my posts on the dress and the bride who made and wore it are here and here.

But that wasn't all I saw that day. Patricia Gilrein, collections manager and exhibitions coordinator at the Bostonian Society, had another example of Elizabeth Bull Price's embroidery to show me. Carefully laid in white preservation paper was this exquisite triangular neckerchief, or scarf, stitched about the same time as the wedding dress, in 1730s New England.

Made of fine green silk imported from China and embroidered with silk and metallic threads from Europe, this was another masterpiece of needlework art: the designs are perfectly composed and balanced, the colors still rich and well-chosen, and the embroidery itself is breathtaking. I was especially impressed with the serpentine border, a true test of any embroiderer's skill. The kerchief would have been worn around the shoulders of a gown with the narrow ends in front (much how women often wear triangular shawls today), and pinned in place to the bodice. It must have made quite an impression when it was new, with the metallic threads bright and sparkling by candlelight.

There's no question that time has taken its toll. The fine green silk cloth has deteriorated around the threads, with small holes and spots of wear that make the piece fragile, and the gold and silver threads have tarnished over time. But the quality of one woman's imagination, talent, and skill remains undiminished, and it's easy to imagine Elizabeth sitting beside a window for light, taking great pleasure in choosing her threads and patterns.

Many thanks to Patricia Gilrein, Kimberly Alexander, and the staff of the Bostonian Society for sharing their treasures with me.

Above: Neckerchief made by Elizabeth Bull Price. Collection of The Bostonian Society. Photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Furnishing your nursery in 1809

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Child's cot and nursery chair
Cot & chair description
Loretta reports:

One thing I noticed about the evolution of Ackermann’s Repository over the years:  In the early years of its publication, children appear occasionally in the fashion plates.  But in the later years they seem to disappear.  I wonder if this has anything to do with pregnancy being highly fashionable at one point, or whether it simply reflects one of those cultural swings of the pendulum.

I’ll leave you to speculate, while you contemplate placing a very special infant into a mahogany “cot-bed” tastefully draped in rich silk ...

Cot & chair description

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket