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?!

Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of March 30, 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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Historically, when human beings have time on their hands, they tell stories. (See my last blog post where I discuss Boccaccio’s The Decameron.) The first local history pastime on my list below asks us to tell the story of how two big events, the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, shaped daily life in the 1950’s. 

Time will tell how our experience with the coronavirus will shape our future, but I hope that any of you who lived during the 1950’s–or have an interest in this topic or time period–will take the time to share your memories or share your research on this topic and help us tell our story about what it was like to live in the 1950’s.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Westborough Korean War Monument
  • Westborough in the 1950’s Project. The Westborough History Working Group at the Westborough Public Library is teaming up with Westborough TV to create programming and an eventual film on Westborough in the 1950’s, and we need your help. Over the next few months, we will be gathering from the Westborough community photographs, memories, images of ephemera, and other information about what it was like to live in Westborough during this formative decade.

This week we are asking the question: How did the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War affect life in the 1950’s, either in Westborough or American society in general? 

Whether you lived in Westborough during this time or not, submit your reflections by clicking here. If you were not alive during the 1950’s or were too young to remember, then perhaps you can use this question to interview someone who did or do some research to try to answer the question a different way.

In the coming weeks, I will be asking more questions about daily life in the 1950’s and pose other ways for you to contribute content to our 1950’s project.

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  • Research your ancestors (or other historical person). Until April 30, you can use Ancestry.com from home (normally, you have to be in the Westborough Library to use this database). Every time I search this database, I discover something new about my ancestors, so if you have never used it or haven’t searched the database in awhile, you will be amazed by the resources that it offers.

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List of Males over 16 Years Old, 1777
  • Early Census Record. I recently received my U.S. Census form in the mail and filled it out online this weekend. Once you have submitted your form, take a look at an early Westborough census record: List of Males Over 16 Years Old, 1777. This census was used to determine and identify the number of soldiers that Westborough was required to send to fight for the American cause during the American Revolution.

By the way, your participation in the U.S. Census is important not only for its use in developing public policy and for allocating resources to our state and town, but also because it will provide key information for your descendants, who at a future date may be using Ancestry.com or some other resource to discover information about you.

Westborough Local History Pastimes

Pass Time with Our Passed Time During the Week of March 23, 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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With so much time on our hands due to the quarantine, why not pass it with some Westborough local history?

With the closure of the Westborough Public Library due to the spread of the corona-virus, I will be sending out weekly suggestions for how you might want to engage your mind with local history activities. Here are a few resources to explore. Have fun!

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Westborough Chronotype, August 27, 1915

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Copy of the Declaration of Independence, Westborough Town Records, 1776

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And if you really have a lot of time on your hands . . . how about something completely different?

  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio – I know, it’s not local history, but it’s timely (and historical). The frame narrative around Boccaccio’s 14th-century collection of stories involves a group of ten, young nobles retreating to the country for ten days to avoid the Black Death. To pass the time, each member of the party is required to tell a story every day for a total of 100 stories.

As I read Boccaccio’s work, I can’t help but think about how it can be updated to the present. The cloistering of the youths brings to mind reality television shows such as Big Brother, and I wonder if my college daughters’ daily TikTok creations (click on the link if you have no idea what I am talking about) can be gathered together for similar effect once we come out the other end of our quarantine. So far, I am only one story into the narrative collection, but the satire is devastating and can perhaps be applied to some of our leaders in the midst of this crisis. Even though the introductory frame paints a grim picture of the plague’s effects, I find that it puts our situation today in comforting perspective while at the same time creating an eerie backdrop that forces us to face questions about our human condition as we read about the protagonists’ lighthearted approach toward escaping their horrific circumstance.

The version linked above is from the Internet Archive (which itself provides a platform for hours of fun exploration) and can be read directly online or downloaded in a variety of formats so that you can read it offline on a tablet or other reading device. (Scroll down and look to the right of the catalog information to see a list of available formats.) Other versions and translations of The Decameron are also available through the Internet Archive, but so far I have found this one to use language most similar to ours today.

Maybe after reading Boccaccio you will be inspired to take up the challenge yourself and write a story a day during this stretch of time. If so, send them my way (avaver@cwmars.org) and maybe I will publish them in future editions of Westborough Local History Pastimes.