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Westborough History Connections: History and the Westborough Seal

As the Local History Librarian at the Westborough Public Library, I have recently received requests for information about the history of the Westborough town seal, given recent discussions about replacing it due to its depiction of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The controversy centers on the cotton gin’s role in making cotton production in the United States much more profitable, which consequently preserved and prolonged slavery throughout the American South right at a time when it was beginning to wane.

Beginning in 1899, every city and town in Massachusetts was required to have a seal after the General Court of Massachusetts passed Chapter 256, and town clerks were given the responsibility of maintaining their custody. Westborough’s first town seal began to appear on its Annual Town Report in 1913. The design is fairly generic, although to my modern eye it has an antique charm to it.

The original Westborough town seal as it appears on the 1913 Annual Town Report.

As part of the celebration of its 250th Anniversary in 1967, Westborough decided to change its town seal. According to the Commemorative Booklet for the celebration, art students from Westborough High School were invited to submit drawings for a new seal design. The Anniversary Committee ended up selecting four drawings to be used as a composite for the official seal: a sketch of the tower on Town Hall, an outline of a map of Westborough proclaiming it as the 100th town in Massachusetts, a “pie crust” edge around the seal, and a drawing of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin based on his patent.

The new Westborough seal design, as it appears on the 250th anniversary Commemorative Booklet.

The new seal appeared on the front cover of the Commemorative Booklet and was used to create a commemorative coin. On the reverse side of the booklet and the coin is another drawing by a high school art student depicting an “Indian lad in a deep forest setting.” The Westborough Center for History and Culture in the Westborough Public Library has one of the coins in its collection. (I am happy to show it to anyone who is interested once the library opens up again.)

The back cover of the 250th anniversary Commemorative Booklet.

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough in 1765 and left the town for good in 1789 to attend Yale College. He received a patent for his cotton gin in 1794. Cotton gins had been around before Whitney’s invention, most notably in India, which dominated the world’s cotton market well before the American South began producing and exporting cotton. But the particular strain of cotton that grew in the South had fibers that were tightly attached to its seeds, and the Indian cotton gins could not separate the two. 

Whitney never realized the profits he expected to gain from his invention. Instead of selling cotton gins directly to cotton growers, he and his partner decided to charge farmers to clean their cotton for them, much like grist mills charged to grind corn or wheat. The simplicity of his cotton gin design, however, made it easy to copy, so the two ended up using all of their profits to fight patent infringements and the company went bankrupt in 1797.

Whereas one person could clean about a pound of cotton a day, Whitney’s cotton gin increased cotton production by 4,900 percent. With great profits to be made, this increased production capacity prompted cotton growers in the American South to expand their operations and created increased demand for arable land in the West. Since these growers relied on slaves to cultivate and process their cotton, the institution of slavery greatly expanded as well, and slaves were required to work longer and harder to meet production capacities.

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During the course of researching the history of the Westborough seal and the role of the 250th anniversary celebration in its creation, I came across some pretty offensive cultural content given today’s standards. I highly doubt that the people who produced the content intentionally meant to be offensive at the time, but the reaction that this content elicits today illustrates how attitudes change with historical perspective.

One of the events that was held as part of the anniversary celebration was a “Minstrel Show,” which as far as I can tell was basically a talent show. Judging by the character of other events held during the celebration and by pictures I came across of people dressed up in 19th-century costume, the Anniversary Committee probably selected “Minstrel” for the title of the talent show in order to sound“old timey.” A similar example of 19th-century inspired nostalgia, for example, was a beard and mustache growing contest. People got so into it that they held a ceremony to bury a few beard whiskers and three of the razors used in a “shaving of the beards” ritual. Later, the tombstone marking the burial site was stolen, which caused newspaper headlines. In selecting “Minstrel” for the title of their talent show, the Anniversary Committee members failed to take into account the racism that structures this specific form of entertainment. Subsequent historical scholarship on the history of minstrel shows would now make such an oversight neglectful.

I also came across a picture and article about the “Hoccomocco Indians” that appeared in the “Hoccomocco Herald” (the newsletter for the anniversary). A word of warning, some people may find elements of the article to be offensive and upsetting.

“Hoccomocco Indians” from The Hoccomocco Herald.

The use of Native American racist tropes (“pretty squaws,” “fierce braves,” “smoke signals,” and “scalps”) certainly jumps out, as well as the apparent need at the end of the article to draw intentional attention to the use of “color” as a pun, where it refers both to a common term used to designate behavior outside of the norm and to the tone of Native American skin, by putting it in quotation marks.

But also notable is the article’s perpetuation of colonialist attitudes and ideologies in its characterization of interactions between native people and European colonizers. European contact with people who lived in North America was inevitable, but such contact could be approached in one of two ways: as a meeting of two civilizations with the aim of sharing cultures, engaging in trade, and respectfully recognizing the sovereignty of the people who already inhabited the land; or as an act of conquest with the aim of exploiting both the people and land they encountered. The Europeans landing in North America decided to go with the latter option. (Note that when it came to exploring and meeting civilizations in Asia, these same countries generally went with the former option. See the Westborough Connections series on Westborough-India for more on the reasons why such a difference existed). As a means of justifying their conquest of North America, Europeans ideologically flipped the combative relationship between the two civilizations on its head, and the 1967 article continues to reproduce such an ideology by positioning the Native Americans as the (potential) aggressors and “the white man” as innocent victims. (Did you also catch the reference to the beard contest in the first paragraph?)

What is clear in the article is that the people involved in making the costumes believe that they are honoring Native Americans and their culture through careful research and design of their clothing. Unfortunately, there is no mention one way or another of the group reaching out to or involving Native Americans in their efforts. But if they had done so, it is possible that they would have found a more sensitive way to honor the first inhabitants of where we live now.

History never fossilizes. Our picture of the past is always shaped by our evolving perspectives over time. As we move further away from an event, we are better able to see the ideologies—both good and bad–that unconsciously informed the actions and thoughts of people living during that particular time. The irony is that the further we move away from a historical moment–both in time and in ideology–the better our position is to understand the social, economic, and cultural processes that were at play. Current events swirl around us, and we make the best decisions we can at the moment they happen given the circumstances, but we can only come to a true understanding of what that moment means through time and distance.

I hope that the Westborough Center for History and Culture is a place where we can explore these difficult issues in a non-threatening way based on the historical materials and resources available to us. That’s hard to do. The people who put the cotton gin on our seal, or called a talent show a minstrel show, or dressed up in Native American costume and wrote about it were not bad people. They simply did not have the historical tools that now inform our standards today to see the implications of their actions–in the same way that we today do not have the proper historical tools at our disposal to see how future generations will judge us. Others may disagree with my assertion here and believe that these people in the past should have known better. Still others may believe that what was good for people living in the past should be good for us living today. I welcome the dialog.

Respectfully respond in the Comments, drop me an e-mail, or stop by the Westborough Center to chat when I am around once the library reopens. I promise that if you do, I will give your ideas respectful consideration and will provide a safe space to explore them together.

 

 

Westborough Local History Pastimes – June 24, 2020

Even though the Westborough Public Library is not yet open to the public, librarians are back in the building catching up on collection processing and preparing the building for when we can open our doors again.

As part of these efforts, I have been working on a “special enhancement” to the new exhibit space in the Westborough Center that is going to significantly improve our ability to share information about Westborough’s history and culture. (I am going to keep it a secret to create some suspense for our reopening and to use it as an incentive for you to stop by when we do). I have also been busy adding the first batch of photographs to the new Photographer-in-Residence Program Photographs collection in the Westborough Digital Repository.

And every summer, I evaluate the activities of the  Westborough Center and come up with ideas to try to improve what we are doing. I am in the process of carrying out such an evaluation now, and I am excited about some of my initial ideas to make the Westborough Center an even better place for exploration, creativity, and celebration of Westborough history and culture.

I can’t wait to see you in person once again and hope that you will stop in the Westborough Center to check it out once we reopen. And if you have any ideas for what you would like to do or see happen at the Westborough Center, send me an e-mail!

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, avaver@cwmars.org

 

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  • Photographer-in-Residence Program Photographs – The photographs of the 2018-2019 Photographer-in-Residence, Brandin Tumeinski, are now available in the Digital Repository. Once the library opens up again, stop by the Westborough Center to see an enhanced exhibit of his work.

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Library Director Maureen Ambrosino (in case you couldn’t tell) with Holly.
  • Continue Submitting Your Face Mask Selfies – I know, you are are probably tired of me asking, but the contributions so far have been so great and say so much about who we are during these strange times that I can’t help it. Become a part of history and submit your photo! Future residents of Westborough will thank you. (Just click on the link and select “Face Mask Selfie” from the drop down menu to submit yours.)

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  • Bending Lines: Maps and Data from Distortion to Deception (online exhibit at the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library) – We tend to attribute notions of trust and authority to the maps we use, but they are just as prone to distortion as any other form of representation. I love the work of the Leventhal Map Center, and their latest online exhibit addresses the gap between physical reality and how maps and other forms of visual data represent that reality. Let’s hope we can see the physical version soon!

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of May 25, 2020

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

–Geoffrey Chaucer, opening lines of the Prologue
to The Canterbury Tales, 1387

Geoffrey Chaucer

I started the Pastimes newsletter back in March in response to the closing of our library during the coronavirus pandemic. In that first issue I featured Boccaccio’s The Decameron, which is a collection of 100 tales that are all framed by the story of a group of ten nobles who each agree to tell a story a day during the ten days while they are quarantined in the countryside avoiding the Black Death.

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is often discussed along with Boccaccio’s work because its collection of stories are also joined together by a frame tale: a group of religious pilgrims find themselves traveling together to Canterbury, England and each one agrees to tell a total of four stories to entertain each other along the way. But what also unites these two works is the specter of the plague. Chaucer’s pilgrims are traveling to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral after praying for his help during the spread of the Black Death. So while The Decameron starts near the beginning of the plague, The Canterbury Tales begins at its end.

Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims, we may have missed out on enjoying our April (and most of May), but now that we share with the travelers the emergence of spring and the beginning phases for ending our quarantine we should join them by getting outside and making some of our own “pilgrimages” around town (see the entries below for ideas)–and, if you were an English major in college and were required to memorize the opening lines to The Canterbury Tales as I was, recite some Chaucer along the way. 

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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  • Make a “Pilgrimage” to the Burial Site of Our Town’s First MinisterRev. Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery on West Main Street (between the Forbes Municipal Building and Westborough TV), and his gravesite is so elaborate in comparison to the others that you will easily find it. 

Once you also finish wandering among the gravestones of other Westborough residents who lived during Parkman’s time, walk down the street to the Congregational Church, and, if you are lucky enough to find it open, visit the Parkman Memorial Chapel. The chapel has the same dimensions as Westborough’s original meeting house, and in it you can see Parkman’s Bible and stand behind the pulpit from which he gave his sermons.

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Blue Jay from Birds of New England and Adjacent States, 1870
  • Celebrate Along with the Birds the Arrival of Springtime and Our New Limited Freedoms – Chaucer describes spring as a time when smale foweles maken melodye,” so let’s pay attention and enjoy their songs. The New York Times has a nice set of seven tips to help those of us who have never engaged in formal birdwatching to become more attuned to the lives of birds. I, for one, plan to use it while sitting out on my back deck as the weather continues to warm up.

 

 

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of May 18, 2020

Spring, Alfred Thompson Bircher, ca. 1861–1897

The weather this spring has generally been cold, windy, and dreary. And even though we have had a few warm and sunny spring days, I still find myself longing for an end to “winter,” both for my garden’s and our mental health’s sake. 

But even if the weather and the coronavirus continues to keep us indoors, we can still enjoy a virtual walk in our community through the work of the Westborough Public Library’s Photographers-in-Residence. The first Pastime entry below has links to their work, some of which was before and some during the pandemic shut-down. In both cases, the positive spirit of our community shines through! 

If you want to “get behind the camera” yourself, the other Pastime entries will give you some ideas and opportunities to do so. And even if you do not have any photographic skills, be sure to submit your Face Mask Selfie to the Westborough Archive! You can view ones that have been submitted so far to gather some inspiration.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Mill Pond, Brandin Tumeinski, 9/30/2018
  • Photographs of Our Community Before and During the Pandemic – View the latest work by the Westborough Public Library’s current Photographer-in-Residence (2019-2020), Adway Wadekar, at https://www.instagram.com/thewestborougharchive/. Many of his works currently posted show Westborough during more vibrant times and remind us of what we have to look forward to once the coronavirus threat finally ends.

Brandin Tumeinski, who was our Photographer-in-Residence from 2018-2019, continues to take photographs of our community. You can view his most recent work at https://brandintumeinski.instaproofs.com/gallery/#events/1731919/4013169. Once the library opens up again to the public, the Westborough Center will be offering an enhanced display of his “Westborough: Portraits of a Town” exhibit, and we will be looking forward to displaying Wadekar’s work in a follow-up exhibit once his current term ends. 

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  • Submit Your Photographs to Westborough Connects! – Westborough Connects is collecting photographs and brief stories meant to capture our experiences and reactions to the coronavirus pandemic during the month of May. Even better, their fourteen different contribution suggestions are activities that we can do to break up the monotony, bring some joy to our lives, and/or get us out of the house and into Westborough’s fresh air. 

The project is called “Together. Apart. Always. Stories of Connections and Resilience in Westborough,” and you can learn more about it by visiting the Westborough Connects website or by going to their special Facebook page for this project. Contributions will be collected into a book that the organization will sell as a fundraiser. So pull out your cameras or smartphones and contribute to this fun and reflective project. 

(By the way, the book will be added to the Westborough Archive, so your contribution will truly become a part of history!) 

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ca. 1977
  • Become Involved in Photographing Westborough – Are you interested in photography? Do you want to connect with other photographers and help the Westborough Center document life in our town so that future generations can gain a better understanding of who we are today? 

The Westborough Public Library will be revamping our Photographer-in-Residence program in the upcoming year. We do not yet know what this new program will look like (although we already have some ideas), but if you are interested in participating either with planning the new program or simply adding your name to a notification list for when it gets going, let me know by emailing me at avaver@cwmars.org

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of May 11, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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In last week’s issue of Westborough Local History Pastimes, I discussed the importance of collecting images, stories, websites, and other formats that document how Westborough is responding to the current medical crisis and what that collection may mean to Westborough in the future. But we can also look back in time to see how Westborough handled medical issues in the past.

This issue highlights ways for you to explore how Westborough responded to pandemics, disease, and other physical ailments at various points in its history. 

[And be sure to add your Face Mask Selfie to the Westborough Coronavirus Pandemic Response collection! The ones that have been submitted so far are really fun and interesting.]

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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  • Rev. Ebenezer Parkman and Eighteenth-Century Medicine – If we cannot diagnose Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister, as a hypochondriac* given the historical distance between his time and now, we can at least say that he was highly attuned to medical matters during his time. In the absence of modern medicine, who can blame him? Parkman actively chronicled both his own ailments and those of the people of Westborough in his diary, and he collected recipes that supposedly cured or provided relief to those afflicted with disease or illness.  

Here are a few places where you can explore and learn more about disease and medicine in eighteenth-century America through Parkman and his writings.

  • Read about how diseases as various as measles, sore throat, and rickets affected Westborough in the eighteenth century by visiting this page from the Westborough Public Library’s online edition of Parkman’s diary: http://diary.ebenezerparkman.org/diary-themes-topics/.
  • You can find some of the cures that Parkman collected–such as “The Blood of a Pigeon is a most Excellent Remedy in all Wounds & Contagions of the Eyes”–in New England’s Hidden Histories’s online collection of Parkman Papers. Click the “Close and View Content” button in the bottom right of the page after visiting each of these pages:
  • Read more about Parkman’s medicinal recipes in “A Most Excellent Remedy,” a Beacon Street Diary blog post from Congregational Library and Archive.

* According to Leo Damrosch in The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (available as an ebook through the WPL with the Libby app), hypochondria in the eighteenth-century “didn’t mean wrongly imagining a physical illness; it meant suffering from a very real mental disorder, which was assumed to be linked to some bodily imbalance” relating to “blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile” (17).

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Westborough Chronotype, September 20, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, September 27, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, October 4, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, October 11, 1918

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of May 4, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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Help Us Document Life During the Coronavirus Pandemic!

As we keep up our social distancing during the pandemic, I hear over and over again that “we are witnessing history.” Well, we are always witnessing history, but it is also true that some events have a greater impact on our lives than others. What we really mean to say is that we are witnessing a significant event that will perhaps impact us for years to come, and so people in the future will want to study and understand the ways that this event changed us.

In last week’s newsletter, I bemoaned the difficulty of finding articles on the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 in the Westborough Chronicle (more on that next week!). But wouldn’t it be great if we had an archival collection that documented how Westborough responded to that crisis? Such an archive could teach us how the people of Westborough in the past coped with their fears, made difficult decisions in an attempt to curb infections, and adapted to having their normal routines interrupted in the face of a public health emergency. By coming to understand their struggle, we might find solace in the fact that our town has already gone through something similar to what we are going through now, that we bonded together as a community, and that we came out of the crisis together to live another day.

Your response to the current pandemic is historic! Below are some ways that you can help the Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Center collect our impressions, our experiences, and our coping mechanisms for future Westborough residents. We are indeed witnessing history, and, as always, you are an important part of creating that history! Here is your chance to help us document this history and preserve it for generations to come.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Submit Your Written Reflections on the Coronavirus Pandemic! – The Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Center for History and Culture are asking residents to write their reflections/impressions/reactions to living in this global pandemic. Here are some ideas for what to write about:

  • Discuss how the “world shutting down” has impacted you and altered your normal activities:
      • Sheltering in place
      • No sports
      • No school
      • No graduation
      • No Boston Marathon
      • No shopping
      • No restaurant dinners
    • Of interest also is daily life under these conditions: 
      • How do you spend your time at home all day? 
      • What is it like to visit the supermarket? 
      • How do you keep in contact with loved ones? 
      • How do you feel about wearing a mask or about maintaining social distancing?
    • Looking to the future:
      • What do you miss most? When do you anticipate being able to do that activity again?
      • When do you think everything will return to normal? Will it? If not, how will it be different?
      • Was there anything positive to come out of this quarantine experience? What were they? Do you anticipate these outcomes continuing into the future?

Kris Allen, Westborough’s eminent town historian, is offering to “put on her editor’s hat” and assemble our writings.

Deadline: June 1

Length: 500-750 words, or however long it takes to write what you want.

Submission: Send your reflections to Kris Allen (krisallen2@verizon.net) or submit them online by going to https://westboroughdigitalrepository.omeka.net/contribution and selecting the “Coronavirus Pandemic Written Reflection” option.

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Compulsory mask during the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (the design is meant as a joke).

Here Are Some Other Ways to Contribute – Writing may not be your thing, but here are some other ways to contribute content to the Westborough’s Coronavirus Pandemic Response collection:

  • Take a selfie of yourself wearing your mask. Be creative. Can you quickly add a note commenting on your mask or about what it is like to wear it? 
  • Contribute a photograph that shows how life has changed. Here are some ideas for what to photograph:
          • Empty grocery store shelves.
          • Empty Westborough streets.
          • Signs relating to the crisis.
          • People practicing social distancing.
          • Closed stores or restaurants.
  • Scan or photograph an item or object relating to the crisis.
  • Contribute a picture or cartoon.
  • Conduct an oral history with someone.
  • Take a short video showing how your life has changed.
  • Share your journal during this time (just make sure you want to make it public!).

Submit your contribution at https://westboroughdigitalrepository.omeka.net/contribution.

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Take a look at what is already included in the collection, and if you think we are missing a Westborough-related web or social media site that is taking action during this crisis, fill out this “Suggest a Web or Social Media Site” Form and we will consider adding it to the collection. 

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of April 27, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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Despite the stereotypes (or because of them), librarians are sometimes characterized as superheroes. People come up to the reference desk or send us an email with what they assume is an impossible question to answer, and within minutes, we are miraculously able to find the answer. How do we do that? (Email me or stop by the Westborough Center for History and Culture the next time the library is open and I’ll be happy to try to explain.)

But sometimes–probably more often than we want to admit–we make mistakes. After all, we are human (and not actual superheroes). And recently, I made a mistake. Well, sort of. In a past issue of Westborough Local History Pastimes, I said that I had conducted a “thorough search” in the Westborough Chronicle for any reference to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and could not find any. Well, since that time, I came across a search term that I had neglected to use before, went back to our local newspaper database to try it out, and was finally able to uncover an article about the pandemic. By all indications, this article should have come up using my original search terms, but for whatever reason, it did not. I must have made a mistake somewhere, or perhaps the quirks of the database eluded me.

Now it’s your turn. Read the first pastime entry below and try your hand at becoming a librarian superhero!

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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  • Westborough and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 – The following article appeared in the Westborough Chronicle on October 11, 1918. To date, it is the only article I have been able to find on the topic in our local newspaper. Want to see if you can do better than I can? Explore our Westborough Historical Newspapers database, and let me know if you discover any more articles about this historical pandemic.

 

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As of this writing, the U.S. Census Bureau says that Massachusetts has a 54.9% response rate, compared to a national average of 53.2%. (Click here to find out the updated number.) Filling out the Census is important, because it determines the number of representatives that we get to send to Washington and the amount of federal funds that will flow to our state and town. If we are undercounted, then we will not receive our full benefits and lose influence in setting public policy.

Because we own the government by virtue of being citizens in our democratic society (and more literally because we pay taxes), we also own all of the records that are produced by our government. That means we have access to all kinds of data that comes out of the U.S. Census Bureau. Even more, you can find loads of fascinating historical data, and even see Famous and Infamous Census Forms for people like Thomas Jefferson, Groucho Marx, Malcolm X, Emily Dickinson, and John Dillinger. I could spend hours exploring all that the Census website has to offer!

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The exhibit chronicles how maps were used to shape ideas and attitudes towards our country’s westward expansion. Its addition of Native American viewpoints alone brings to relief how maps hold meanings that go beyond their seemingly neutral spatial representations. The content of the exhibit was so absorbing that I purchased the exhibition catalog to learn more. Fortunately, you can click on the link above to “visit” the exhibit and learn how important maps were to America’s nineteenth-century mindset.

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of April 20, 2020 – Special Patriot’s Day Edition

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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After moving to Massachusetts from New Jersey in 1998, Patriot’s Day quickly became my favorite holiday. My enthusiasm for the day, though, had less to do with my ability to sleep in on that day and then meet up with another librarian friend at 11 a.m. during our day off to watch the Red Sox play–as great as that was. (Growing up as a Cubs fan in Chicago made adopting the Red Sox as my new “hometown” team rather easy given their shared futility on the field up until that point–it was an adoption that I was never able to stomach carrying out with the New York area teams despite living in that area for a number of years.)

No, my love of Patriot’s Day had more to do with the knowledge that we, collectively as people living in Massachusetts, had that day off while everyone else in the country had to go to work. When I bragged to family and friends back home how I was looking forward to my upcoming day off, they would quickly interrupt and say, “Patriot-what?” And then I could self-satisfyingly explain to them the “magic” of Patriot’s Day.

I have never woken up early to witness the annual Battle Green Reenactment at Lexington–I am not one to fight crowds, especially that early in the morning–and unfortunately, given the current crisis, no one else will be showing up this year to see it either. Nor will we be watching the Red Sox play. So why not mark the day from the comfort of your own home by exploring Westborough’s participation in the American Revolution through its historical documents, one of this week’s Local History Pastimes activities? And keep reading to discover other ways to “attend” Patriot’s Day activities.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Explore images available through the Digital Commonwealth of actual historical records held at the Westborough Public Library that document Westborough’s involvement in the American Revolution.

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  • Westborough Town Records, 1717-1781 – Want more? Continue your research of Westborough’s involvement in the American Revolution by reading our newly digitized town meeting records. Records for 1774–a crucial year leading up to the American Revolution–start on page 290

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  • Virtual Patriot’s Day 2020 – The Lexington Historical Society has put together ways for us to celebrate Patriot’s Day virtually. Through their website, you can view footage of last year’s Battle Green Reenactment, participate in some of their virtual events, and take awesome virtual tours of the houses they own (really, the tours are amazing, so check it out).

 

 

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of April 13, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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I often compare the value of local history to the experience of drinking fine wine. 

Better wines offer a variety of taste sensations and a depth of flavor over the course of one sip that other wines may not possess. In the end, though, the enjoyment of fine wine really comes down to the mindset we bring to drinking it: are we paying attention to the way it smells in the glass, its texture, the changes of flavor as we sip it both on its own and as we eat food? No matter how fine the wine, if we guzzle it down like water we will certainly miss its subtleties. But if we slow down and apply a more mindful approach to the wine that we drink (or the food that we eat), we gain more enjoyment from the experience.

The same principle applies to local history. The more we strive to learn about the history of our town, the greater the enjoyment of where we live. The Arcade Building is simply one of many buildings that line the Westborough rotary–until we learn that it was the site of the town’s second meeting house, which was then sold and turned into a shopping arcade before being replaced by the present structure. And the Town Hall is just a place where we pay our taxes, renew our dog licenses, and attend Selectmen’s meetings–until we learn that it needed to be built once the second meeting house was no longer available and that the current structure is actually the second town hall to inhabit that spot.

Local history offers us a “depth of flavor” that enhances the appreciation of our daily surroundings by helping us see the layers of time that have gone into making our town what it is today. Now that the weather is warming, why not take advantage of the “Early Development of Westborough through Church and State: A Walking Tour” (one of the Westborough Local History Pastimes listed below) and add some new “flavors” to your enjoyment of Westborough?!

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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If you grew up in Westborough during the 1950’s, did you and your family move here during that time? If so, from where, and why did you move here? If your family lived in Westborough before 1950, what did your parents do for work? Why did your family decide to stay in Westborough?

If you live in Westborough today, did you grow up here? If so, why did you decide to stay (or move back)? If you moved to Westborough, where did you move from? Why did you choose to live in Westborough?

Click here and help us tell the story of Westborough?

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Just make sure that while you follow the tour on your phone that you maintain proper social distancing!

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  • Play some historical video games – The Internet Archive offers a wealth of public domain books, videos, audio files, and other free resources. It even has historical video games!

While your kids play games on their phones or on their Nintendo Switch, you can wax nostalgic by playing their early forebears, such as The Oregon Trail, Sim City, or Prince of Persia. The link above takes you to a list of games that can be played through your browser, but the “Software” navigation button at the top of the Internet Archive page can take you to other game forms (although some might require more advanced computer knowledge to operate).

As I try out some of these games I think about the truth of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”: it turns out that I’m still really bad at playing Pac-Man!

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of April 6, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  • an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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We often live out our daily lives unaware that in doing so we are necessarily participating in the process of creating history. By repeating everyday tasks, we reinforce modes and patterns of existence that define who we are, both individually and as a society. And because we take these actions for granted, gaining a true understanding of the “how and why” of what we do on an everyday basis poses the greatest challenge for historians, precisely because we leave behind so few reflections on the mundane routines that structure most of our lives.

But every now and then, our lives are disrupted by a big event that brings to relief how we collectively experience and participate in the creation of history. We tend to think of wars in this way (although recent wars have not engendered the same kind of social call that World War I or World War II did). Extreme economic events, such as the onset of the Great Depression, also jolt us from our historically reflective slumber. And the library’s archive of historical photographs are filled with images of disasters such as blizzards, the aftermaths of tornadoes and hurricanes, and major fires (while we have a dearth of pictures depicting everyday life from various eras). 

When it comes to pandemics, we have to look back to the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 as the last time that this form of historically reflective disruption took place in the United States at the scale we are experiencing now.* The long span in time between then and now may have lulled us into a false sense of security, but history tells us that plagues are a part of human experience and have been from our beginnings. While our medical technologies might be able to mitigate their effects or extend the time between their occurrence, we cannot avoid them altogether. Whether we like it or not, coping with pandemics are a part of what it means to be human. We may not gain great comfort from this observation, but as I am holed up in my house with my family I think about all the times that people have been forced to do the same throughout history, and I suddenly realize that my experience is not unique, that I am not alone. And I now have better insight into what those people experienced and can gain lessons from how they coped.

Please take some time during this quarantine period to tell us about the aspects of daily life in Westborough that historians find so challenging to discover (see the first Historical Pastime entry below). I will be asking you to contribute similar reflections over the upcoming weeks.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

* By the way, I did a thorough search in the Westborough Chronicle for any mention of the Spanish flu and could not find any.

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Aerial View of Rt. 9 and Woodman Ave., ca. 1950’s

Last week, the Westborough History Working Group asked you to contribute reflections on how the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War affected daily life as part of its Westborough in the 1950’s Project. This week we are asking you to tell us your memories about the farms, orchards, dairies, and greenhouses in Westborough, both in the 1950’s and today. 

Was agriculture important to daily life in Westborough in the 1950’s? Did you ever get the chance to enjoy Westborough-produced food? Did your family have a garden?

For those of you who did not live in Westborough in the 1950’s, how do you take advantage of the farms and greenhouses in Westborough today? Now that spring is here, what produce do you look forward to eating most? Do you tend a garden or are thinking of starting one, given our quarantine situation? 

Click here to contribute your memories and reflections on Westborough agriculture and your anticipations for the upcoming growing season.

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Rev. Ebenezer Parkman
  • Learn about Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister. While Rev. Ebenezer Parkman served as Westborough’s minister from 1724 and 1782, he kept a detailed diary of his life and his interactions with other people. This extraordinary resource gives us a profound and unprecedented insight into colonial life in a rural New England town. The Ebenezer Parkman Project, a creation of the Westborough Public Library, offers access to Parkman’s complete diary and other writings, along with information about colonial Westborough and its inhabitants.

Did you also know that Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery across from Town Hall? (Walk down the middle sidewalk behind the fountain and it’s hard to miss.) Visiting his gravesite (and the other old gravestones that surround his) can offer a welcome diversion and excuse to get out and take a walk.

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  • Brush up on your Civics while playing games. The iCivics website, the brainchild of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, uses online games to teach civics in an engaging way. The 21 games on the site are geared to kids and adults alike and cover various topics, such as Branches of Power (“Learn to control all three branches of the U.S. government!”), Do I Have a Right? (“Run a law firm and test your knowledge of constitutional rights”), and People’s Pie (“Learn to control the budget of the federal government”). Sounds like powerful stuff!  

Government can at times seem like an independent entity that works against us, when in reality we, as U.S. citizens, own it and have the ability to make it work in our favor. The more we learn about how our government functions, the more influence we can have on how it operates. Acquiring this knowledge is one of our main duties as citizens, and what better way to learn to amplify our democratic voice than to play games?!