Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Stearns Tavern Dodges the Wrecking Ball

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Loretta reports:

In Worcester, you can’t just knock down an old building when you feel like it (except if you are certain unspeakable people who shall remain nameless). Historic structures get a one year stay of execution, unless the powers that be grant a waiver. Very often the waiver is granted and the building vanishes, and all we can do is take pictures to remember it by.

Recently, and much to our surprise, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, about which I wrote not long ago, got a one year stay of execution, though the odds of its surviving are not great.

The news is better about an old tavern in the town.

The Stearns Tavern is one of those buildings I must have passed a thousand times, in a car and on foot, without more than a glance. It was, until recently, a bank. Only in the last couple of years did I learn was one of Worcester’s oldest structures, dating back to about 1812. (I know: in England that’s practically yesterday, ultra-modern, but this is the U.S.)

We didn’t hold out much hope when the Stearns Tavern got its one year reprieve—but lo and behold, thanks to efforts by the city and several private companies, the tavern will be preserved. It’s moving, for the second time, to a more attractive location, and will get a new life as the centerpiece of a park.

For more about the tavern, here are some links:

Just the facts, ma’am here.

A more detailed story with lots of photographs here.

And the rescue story here.

Despite diligent searching, I’ve been unable to locate older images for a compare and contrast. In the meantime, these photographs are courtesy the indefatigable Walter M. Henritze III.

Please click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

See-Through Summer Dresses for 1782?

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Satirical prints were in their glory in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and for us researching Nerdy History folks, prints can be a wonderful source of information about society and fashion at the time. We just have to keep in mind that they're satire, not fashion plates.

This print is a perfect example. Glance at it quickly, and it looks like countless other prints showing the latest fashions, with three ladies showing both front and back views plus elegant hats and hair. The title of the print, Summer Dresses, makes it sound as if it's exactly that, too.

But if you look a little more closely (click on the image to enlarge it), you'll see that the women are combating warm weather by wearing less - a great deal less. They've left off their stays (corsets) and most of their other undergarments. The fabric of their gowns and aprons is so sheer that their bodies are plainly revealed (which makes those elaborate hats, stockings, and shoes a little strange by comparison.)

But it's a joke. Really. No London ladies were dressing like this. The light-hearted rhyming caption makes it clear:

   My Dear fair Friends
   For two great Ends
   This Summer Dress is recommended.
   Your Health's secured
   Sweet-Hearts insured
   The happy Objects here intended.

In other words, by parading about like this, ladies will not only stay cool and comfortable, but attract sweethearts galore.

But as is often the case with satirical prints, there's a grain of truth, however small, at work here. Over in France, Queen Marie-Antoinette was causing a sensation by wearing a new kind of dress dubbed the chemise a la reine, right.  This was a simple, unstructured dress made of white, light-weight cotton muslin that was a complete turnaround from the stiff silks and brocades, worn over rigid stays, that had dominated women's fashion for most of the century.

Although the chemise a la reine still looks like a lot of dress to modern eyes, in the early 1780s it was considered scandalously insubstantial. To the English satirical artists - the new styles were ridiculous, revealing, and above all FRENCH. See-through dresses were an easy target, and one sure to sell to the stalwart English print-buyers who must have delighted in the scantily clad women of Summer Dresses.

But such prints didn't stop Englishwomen from embracing the new muslin dresses for themselves. By 1785, fashionable aristocrats like Lady Elizabeth Foster, lower left, were posing for portraits wearing the English version of the chemise a la reine. Change was definitely in the air....

Thanks to Neal Hurst for recently posting Summer Dresses on his Facebook page.

Upper left: Summer Dresses, by an anonymous artist, London, 1782, British Museum.
Right: Portrait of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Bottom left: Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster, by Angelica Kauffman, 1785, Ickworth House, National Trust.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of June 20, 2016

Saturday, June 25, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Image: Miniature corset, 1890s, most likely used as a salesman's sample.
• Elizabeth Simmonds, who had a lucky escape on the dissecting table, 1826.
• The polyamorous Christian Socialist utopia that made silverware for proper Americans.
• Archibald MacPheadris and his room: a Baroque merchant's house in Portsmouth, NH, 1716.
• How fashion magazines talked in the 1930s.
• The route of Don Quixote: following in the footsteps of one of the greatest novels of all time.
Image: Edwardian postcard: Suffering to achieve the ideal beauty, yet mocked for the fakery.
• How England became a nation of tea-drinkers.
• Horn and Hardart automats: redefining lunch time, dining on a dime.
• Six New England ghost towns.
• Gout, king's evil, plague in the guts, murder: how people died in 17thc London.
• The Elizabethan garden: plants that Shakespeare would have known well.
Image: Convenience store in St. James's Park, complete with cow, c1900.
• How two 18thc female pirates became BFFs on the high seas.
• America's obsession with presidential hair.
• A brief history of goldfish globes and goldfish hawkers.
• What she left behind.
Video: A favorite of dandies: the now-long-lost spat.
• How "domestic" was women's work, 1500-1700?
• A three-year-old's shoes are a powerful monument to the General Slocum tragedy of 1904.
Image: Judy Garland stood 4'11", but not in these - created for her by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1936 (and still sold today.)
• Fifteen women who deserve their own biopics.
• Be honest: can you really tell left from right?
• And then there were ten: surviving landmarked Dutch houses in Brooklyn, NY.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Video: Grace Kelly's Royal Wedding, 1956

Friday, June 24, 2016

Isabella reporting,

Since June is the month of weddings, this seemed like the perfect Friday video for the season. The wedding of Oscar-winning American actress Grace Kelly to Ranier III, Prince of Monaco, had everything that celebrity-watchers crave: Hollywood and European royalty, a beautiful bride who gave up her movie-star existence for the love of her handsome prince. The fairy-tale analogies were unavoidable, and the world couldn't get enough. Beneath the near-constant glare of media attention, the two were wed in Monaco in a civil service on April 18, 1956, and in a religious ceremony a day later on April 19.

This short newsreel feature from British Pathé captures both the glamour and the frenzy that surrounded the wedding. What struck me most about it, however, was the breathtaking beauty of Grace Kelly, both as a woman and as a bride. She's also remarkably solemn, and I hope for her sake that later that day she was as happy and joyful as a bride should be, once she and her new husband were alone together away from the cameras.

If you received this post by email and are seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be, please click here to view the video.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Before Refrigerators: The Ice House

Thursday, June 23, 2016
Ice House 1817
Loretta reports:

Ice houses weren’t as rare in England as the excerpt from Ackermann's Repository for June 1817 makes one believe. Neither were baths, for that matter. And London did have its share of both. In the 17th century, King Charles II had not only one, but six ice houses built, including one for his mistress the Duchess of Cleveland.* You can read more about ice houses here, here, and here.

Photo of Duchess of Cleveland’s ice house scanned from Christopher Symon Sykes's Private Palaces.

Ice House Described
Ice House Described
*If you'd like to learn more about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend Susan Holloway Scott's (aka the other NHG) Royal Harlot.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
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