Old Hadley Cemetery, Hadley, Massachusetts

Gravestones at Old Hadley Cemetery, around 1905. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

Hadley was settled by European colonists in 1659, and incorporated as a town in 1661. Around the same time, this burying ground was laid out in a meadow just to the northwest of the town center, with the earliest known burials dating back to 1661. Among these was John Webster (1590-1661), who had served as governor of Connecticut before relocating to Hadley. As was the case for most of the other 17th century burials here, his grave was not marked by a stone, although a monument to him was installed in the cemetery in 1818 by his great-great-great grandson Noah Webster, the famous lexicographer and dictionary author.

The earliest surviving gravestones in the cemetery are two matching tablestones for Rebecca and John Russell. They died in 1688 and 1692, respectively, and their stones were installed in 1693, although they are not visible in this particular scene. Otherwise, though, gravestones were rare here until the 1710s, when Hadley resident Joseph Nash began carving gravestones. He used tan sandstone, and his gravestones were typically small, irregularly shaped, and with crudely-cut lettering. Despite the primitive appearance of the stones, he was evidently popular because his work appears in most of the early burying grounds in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. Several of his stones are visible in this particular scene, including those of Mehetebel Marsh (1694-1739) on the far right, and Aaron Cook (1641-1716) and Sarah Cook (1644-1730) near the foreground on the far left side.

The two large tablestones in the center of this scene are for Joanna Porter (1665-1713) on the left and her husband Samuel Porter Jr. (1660-1722) on the right. Joanna was the daughter of Aaron and Sarah Cook, and she was also the mother of Mehetebel Marsh, so this was evidently their family plot. Tablestones were relatively uncommon because of the high cost, and were typically only used for clergymen and other prominent town residents. In this case, Samuel Porter was a wealthy merchant, and he also served as a representative in the colonial legislature, and as a judge and county sheriff. The Porter tablestones were not carved by Joseph Nash, as this was likely seen as too costly of a job to leave to a rather amateurish local stonecutter. Instead, these stones appear to have been carved by the Stanclift family in Middletown, Connecticut, who specialized in monuments such as these.

The Mehetebel Marsh gravestone was likely one of the last that Joseph Nash carved before his own death in 1740. By this point, gravestones in Western Massachusetts were starting to become more refined, in part because of an increased number of stones brought up the river from the skilled Middletown-area carvers. Among these was the gravestone of Samuel Porter III (1685-1748), the tall stone just to the right of the tablestones. He was the son of Samuel and Joanna, and although he died less than a decade after his sister Mehetebel, their two gravestones show the vast differences in skill level between local carvers like Nash and the professionally-trained carvers of Middletown. His gravestone was carved by the prominent Johnson family of Middletown, and its design suggests that it may have been carved somewhat later, perhaps in the 1750s or early 1760s.

The carvers from the Johnson family dominated the gravestone business along the Connecticut River Valley during the mid-1700s, but there were also some skilled local carvers who emerged in Western Massachusetts during this period. Foremost among them was Nathaniel Phelps of Northampton, who was active from the 1740s until the 1780s. Aside from Joseph Nash, perhaps no other 18th century carver is better represented here in Hadley, and one of his gravestones stands in the lower center of this scene, marking the grave of Joanna Porter’s brother Samuel Cook (1672-1746). This stone is a close imitation of the Johnson family’s style, but Phelps would subsequently develop his own style, and he occasionally carved highly ornate gravestones that featured full-body figures of angels. Among these was the gravestone of Sarah Porter (1741-1775), the wife of Samuel and Joanna’s grandson Elisha Porter. Her gravestone is visible in the background of this scene; it is the fourth one from the left in the back row.

By the early 19th century, gravestone styles had shifted away from the ornate carvings of the 18th century. Instead, these gravestones tended to either have generic designs of willows and urns, or no images at all. And, rather than sandstone, these 19th century stones were typically carved in slate or marble. Most of these burials were further to the east of the original section of the cemetery, but there are several 19th century marble stones here in the old section, including one in the back row in the distance for Nathaniel Porter (1709-1779). Although he died in 1779, the style of his gravestone suggests that it was probably carved at some point in the first half of the 1800s.

Aside from Nathaniel Porter’s backdated gravestone, perhaps the most recent gravestone in this particular scene is that of Elisha Porter (1742-1796). Like his grandfather Samuel had done many years earlier, Elisha served as sheriff of Hampshire County, and he was also a colonel in the state militia during the American Revolution. His gravestone is carved in marble, and it has a fairly plain design that is decorated only with an urn in the upper part of the stone.

More than a hundred years would pass between Porter’s burial in 1796 and when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. It is hard to say to what extent this scene changed during that time. Colonial-era burial grounds were often laid out in a somewhat haphazard manner, and during the 19th century many were rearranged into orderly rows of gravestones, often with little concern for whether the stones on the surface corresponded to the remains underground. This was often done for aesthetic reasons or to make maintenance easier, but it seems unclear whether it happened here in Hadley. However, the 18th century gravestones here are all arranged in parallel rows, suggesting that perhaps their positions may have been adjusted at some point.

Today, nearly 120 years after the first photo was taken, the background of this scene has changed significantly. Rather than the open meadows of the first photo, there is now a house directly to the west of the cemetery, with a tall hedge marking the property line. However, here in the foreground the cemetery has remained remarkably unchanged during this time. Sandstone gravestones are often vulnerable to weathering and erosion, and many in the river valley are badly deteriorated, especially those from the Middletown area. Here in Hadley, though, the stones have generally remained well-preserved, and this cemetery is one of the finest colonial-era burial grounds in Western Massachusetts.

Joseph Hooker Birthplace, Hadley, Massachusetts

The birthplace of General Joseph Hooker on West Street in Hadley, Massachusetts, around the 1890s. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

The house in the center of the first photo was likely built at some point during the 1700s, and it stood on the west side of West Street, just north of Cemetery Road. It is best remembered for having been the birthplace of General Joseph Hooker, who was born here on November 13, 1814. Hooker’s father, who was also named Joseph, purchased the house from the Porter family in 1805, shortly before his marriage to Mary Seymour. They had four children who were born here, including Joseph and his three older sisters: Nancy, Mary, and Sarah.

The family would only live here in this house for a few more years, before selling it in 1817 and moving to a house nearby on Middle Street, where Joseph Hooker spent much of his childhood. He attended Hopkins Academy here in Hadley, and he lived with his family in several other houses on West Street before entering West Point in 1833. He graduated in 1837, and that same year his parents left Hadley and relocated to Watertown, New York.

Upon graduating from West Point, Hooker was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army. He served throughout the Mexican-American War, and after the war he was stationed in California. In 1853, he resigned from the army and took up farming in Sonoma County in California, and from 1859 to 1861 he served as a colonel in the California state militia.

Like many of his fellow West Point peers who had entered civilian life in the 1850s, Hooker returned to the army following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He was appointed as brigadier general, and he served in the Peninsula Campaign, where he earned his nickname, “Fighting Joe Hooker.” The nickname originated because of an error in a newspaper dispatch that was intended to have read “Fighting – Joe Hooker Attacks Rebels.” However, perhaps because of his reputation for aggressive fighting on the battlefield, the name stuck with him.

Hooker would subsequently serve in the Second Battle of Bull Run, and at Antietam, where he was wounded early in the fighting. Then, in January 1863, President Lincoln appointed Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing General Ambrose Burnside. After the failures of both Burnside and his predecessor, George B. McClellan, Lincoln hoped that a more aggressive commander like Hooker would have greater success against Robert E. Lee. As it turned out, though, Hooker’s one major battle as commander was Chancellorsville, where he suffered a severe concussion and was ultimately defeated in one of Lee’s most decisive victories of the war.

Despite the loss, Hooker retained command of the Army of the Potomac, but he ultimately resigned in late June 1863, after a falling out between him and Lincoln. However, he remained in the army, and served with distinction in the western theater, including at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and during the Atlanta Campaign. Again, though, he had disagreements with his superiors, including General William T. Sherman, and in 1864 he was transferred to Cincinnati, where he commanded the Northern Department. He held this position until the end of the war, and he would continue to serve in the army until 1868, when he retired with the rank of major general.

Aside from his actions on the battlefield, Hooker would become the subject of an oft-repeated myth that his name was the origin of the term “hooker” for a prostitute. As the story goes, Hooker was a hard-drinking, hard-partying womanizer during the war, to the point where his prostitutes were referred to as “Hooker’s Brigade,” which became the origin of the term. In reality, while Hooker was a bachelor for most of his life including during the war, it seems unclear as to exactly what kinds of drunken debaucheries, if any, he was involved in. And, in any case, the word was being used in reference to prostitutes for at least a few decades prior to the war, although it is certainly plausible that his reputation—whether deserved or not—may have helped popularize the already-existing term.

In the meantime, Hooker’s birthplace here in Hadley changed hands several times over the course of the 19th century. His father had sold the house to John Hopkins in 1817, and it was later owned by Hiram Thayer. He died in 1854, and the house was subsequently owned by two of his sons, Ezra Thayer (1827-1895) and Chesmin Miller Thayer (1829-1882). The brothers evidently lived here together, and the 1860 census showing Ezra here with his wife Rebecca (1831-1916) and their 2-year-old son Charles (1858-1932), along with Chesmin and his wife Julia (1831-1912).

Hooker’s 1863 appointment as commander of the Army of the Potomac drew attention to the house. A February 8, 1863 article in the New York Times, which had originally appeared in the Northampton Free Press, described the house as “an old-fashioned, two-story house, with the gambrel-roof so peculiar to olden times, and altogither [sic] is a fit place for the early home of genius, whether it be an embryo Poet, President, or Major-General.”

The Thayer family would continue to live here for many years. Charles seems to have been the only child of Ezra and Rebecca, and Chesmin and Julia evidently did not have any children of their own, so the size of the family remained the same in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Hooker apparently visited his birthplace at least once after the war, but otherwise he does not seem to have had much of a connection with his old hometown in his later years. He died on Long Island in 1879, at the age of 64, and he was buried alongside his wife in Cincinnati.

Here in Hadley, Hooker’s birthplace would find itself in the spotlight in 1895, when it became the focal point for a large reunion of soldiers from the III Corps in honor of their general. The festivities were held on May 7, 1895, starting early in the morning with a parade in Northampton. The veterans, guests, and spectators then boarded a train for Hadley, and about 3,500 people gathered here on the town common, in a tent in front of Hooker’s birthplace.

Among the many distinguished speakers at the event was General Daniel Sickles, who presented the town with a portrait of Hooker. He had served with Hooker in the III Corps and two men had been friends, but Sickles was a controversial figure whose debaucheries exceeded even Hooker’s supposed reputation. Prior to the war, Sickles had become the first person in the country to successfully use the temporary insanity defense for murder, after he killed his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key II, the son of the Star Spangled Banner author. During the war, probably his most controversial action came at the Battle of Gettysburg, when he defied orders and moved his unit into a highly exposed position, losing his right leg in the process. Despite this, his wartime service was enough to earn him the post of U.S. Minister to Spain, which he held from 1869 to 1874. There, in addition to his diplomatic work, he also had an affair with the recently-deposed Queen Isabella II, and he then married one of her attendants, Carmina Creagh.

By the time he arrived here in Hadley for the ceremony in 1895, he was 75 years old and had been estranged from his second wife for many years. Citing his poor health, his speech was moved to an earlier spot in the program of events so that he could leave early. Notwithstanding these health issues, he spoke at length about Hooker, highlighting his military accomplishments while also defending him against accusations of drunkenness. In his address he also explained how meaningful it was to visit Hooker’s birthplace, comparing it to a visit to Napoleon’s tomb. He went on to explain:

I have never been assigned to a more pleasant duty than the one which calls me here to-day. The birthplace of the most brilliant soldier given to the late war by Massachusetts has an interest for all her citizens. To the survivors of the 3d army corps this spot has peculiar attractions. Our loyalty to the memory of Hooker is a sentiment in which affection and admiration are blended. His comrades loved him because he gave them confidence in themselves; because he hade them soldiers. They loved him because he was proud of them, and jealous of their honor and fame. We admired him as the intrepid brigade and division commander whose plume was always in the front of the battle. We admired his fearless bearing, his picturesque figure in the saddle, at the head of a column or in line of battle—the type of the soldier who shared every peril to which his command was exposed. We admired his thorough knowledge of his profession—from the duty of a soldier to the responsibility of a commander.

Aside from Sickles’s address, other speakers included state auditor and Civil war veteran John W. Kimball, Medal of Honor recipient General Henry E. Tremaine, and Worcester poet John Howard Jewett, who recited a poem for the event. Lunch came after the speeches, followed by other festivities here in Hadley, such as a concert, a cadet drill exercise, and a baseball game. Aging veterans relaxed in the shade and shared stories about General Hooker, and many people in the crowd visited his birthplace, which was decorated for the occasion.

At the time of the event, the house was still owned by the Thayer family, but neither of the brothers lived long enough to see it. Chesmin died in 1882 and Ezra in January 1895, only a few months before the Hooker celebration here. Their widows would continue to live here for a few more years, but the house was ultimately destroyed by a fire on April 6, 1898. The fire started around 3:00 p.m. in a barn on a neighboring property, and it soon spread to the Hooker birthplace. High winds, combined with a lack of sufficient firefighting equipment in Hadley, helped contribute to the spread of the fire, and several other barns and outbuildings were also destroyed.

Although the Hooker birthplace is gone, its location is commemorated by a large boulder that is visible in the center of the second photo. It was installed here in 1908, and it has an inscription that reads “Birth-place of / Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker / Born Nov. 13, 1814 / Erected by the D.A.R. / 1908.” Just to the left of the boulder is a much more modern house that now stands on the lot. Although built in the late 20th century, it has an exterior that—whether intentional or not—echoes the appearance of its predecessor here.

Boston Light

Boston Light on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos were not taken from the exact same angle; the first one was probably taken from a boat near the island, while the second one was taken with a telephoto lens from about two miles away on Georges Island. But, they both show essentially the same view of Little Brewster Island, the site of the first lighthouse in the present-day United States and the second-oldest existing lighthouse in the country.

During the colonial era, Boston was one of the most important seaports in British North America. Boston benefited from a large natural harbor, protected from the open ocean by a number of islands and peninsulas, but these same landforms also posed hazards to ships entering and leaving the harbor. So, to protect ships and the lives of their sailors, the first lighthouse in the British colonies was constructed here on Little Brewster Island, a small outcropping near the outer edge of the harbor. It was about 60 feet tall, built of rubble masonry, and it was lit for the first time on September 14, 1716.

The occasion was noted in The Boston News-Letter three days later, with the paper describing:

Boston, By vertue of An Act of Assembly made in the First Year of His Majesty’s Reign, For Building & Maintaining a Light House upon the Great Brewster [sic] (called Beacon Island) at the Entrance of the Harbour of Boston, in order to prevent the loss of the Lives & Estates of His Majesty’s Subjects; The said Light House has been built; And on Fryday last the 14th Currant the Light was kindled, which will be very useful for all Vessels going out and coming in to the Harbour of Boston, or any other Harbours in the Massachusets-Bay, for which all Masters shall pay to the Receiver of Impost, One Peny per Ton Inwards, and another Peny Outwards, except Coasters, who are to pay Two Shillings each, at their clearing Out. And all Fishing Vessels, Wood Sloops, etc. Five Shillings each by the year.

The first lighthouse keeper was George Worthylake, but he would soon become the first American lighthouse keeper to die in the line of duty. On November 3, 1718, he was returning to the lighthouse accompanied by his wife Ann and their daughter Ruth, along with an enslaved man, a servant, and a friend of the family. They took a sloop back to the vicinity of island, then boarded a canoe to make their landing. However, the canoe capsized, and all six people drowned.

Here again, The Boston News-Letter reported the tragedy:

Boston, On Monday last the 3d Currant an awful and Lamentable Providence fell out here, Mr. George Worthylake (Master of the Light-House upon the Great Brewster (called Beacon-Island) at the Entrance of the Harbour of Boston) Anne his Wife, Ruth their Daughter, George Cutler, a Servant, Shadwell their Negro Slave, and Mr. John Edge a Passenger; being on the Lord’s Day here at Sermon, and going home in a Sloop, drop Anchor near the Landing place and all got into a little Boat or Cannoo, designing to go on Shoar, but by Accident it overwhelmed, so that they were Drowned, and all found and Interred except George Cutler.

Although the article does not mention the specific burial place, George, Ann, and Ruth were all buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, beneath a triple headstone that still survives today.

Aside from this article in the News-Letter, other writers covered the event. Perhaps most famously, 12-year-old Benjamin Franklin wrote a ballad, which he titled “The Lighthouse Tragedy.” No copies of the poem are known to survive, but in his autobiography Franklin referenced this and another similar poem that he wrote about Blackbeard, observing that:

They were wretched stuff, in the Grub-street-ballad style; and when they were printed he sent me about the town to sell them. The first [the lighthouse poem] sold wonderfully, the event being recent, having made a great noise. This flattered my vanity; but my father discouraged me by ridiculing my performances, and telling me verse-makers were generally beggars. So I escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one.

In the meantime, the lighthouse continued in operation under a new keeper, and in 1719 a cannon was installed on the island for use as a fog signal. The tower was badly damaged by a fire in 1751, but it was subsequently repaired and remained in use until the start of the American Revolution. It was ultimately destroyed by the British on July 13, 1776, following their evacuation of Boston several months earlier.

Little Brewster Island remained devoid of a lighthouse for the rest of the American Revolution, but as the war was winding down in 1783 the Massachusetts legislature authorized the funding to construct a new lighthouse here. It was completed by the end of the year, and like its predecessor it was built of rubble masonry. However, it was somewhat taller, standing 75 feet in height. This tower, with some alterations over the years, is still standing today, as shown in the two photos in this post.

The lighthouse was completed prior to the current U.S. Constitution. At the time, the national government had very limited powers, so matters such as lighthouses were the responsibility of the individual states. Under the new Constitution, though, this became a part of the role of the federal government, which took over the operation of Boston Light in 1790.

Over the years, the exterior appearance of the lighthouse changed several times. In 1809, in response to large cracks in the walls, six iron bands were installed around the tower in order to provide additional structural support. Then, in 1859 the height of the tower was increased to 89 feet, and a new second-order Fresnel lens was installed in the lantern. Also during this time, the interior of the tower was lined with brick, and a brick entryway was added to the base of the tower.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1906, the lighthouse was joined by a number of other buildings on the island. Among these were two houses for the lighthouse keepers, along with ancillary structures such as the fog signal, cistern, oil house, and boathouse. The boathouse was situated next to a pier, and it was equipped with a marine railway. At the time, the light station was staffed by a head keeper and two assistant keepers, and they often lived here with their families as well.

Although still in active use as a lighthouse, the importance of Boston Light had diminished somewhat by the time this photo was taken. Around the turn of the 20th century, most large vessels began taking a more northerly channel into Boston Harbor, bypassing the old lighthouse. To accommodate this traffic, a new lighthouse was constructed in 1905 at the Graves, a rocky ledge about three miles to the northeast of Boston Light. This new lighthouse was taller than Boston Light, and it was also equipped with a larger first-order Fresnel lens.

Despite these changes in shipping routes, Boston Light remained an important lighthouse. There were some changes here in 1939, when the U.S. Lighthouse Service was absorbed by the Coast Guard, and there were further changes during World War II, when the light was extinguished for security purposes, although it was relit after the war. Then, in the postwar era, the role of lighthouse keepers started to become redundant, and lighthouses across the country were steadily automated, which eliminated the need for light stations that were staffed full time. However, just as Boston Light was the first lighthouse in the country, it was also the last one to be automated, in 1998.

Today, this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo more than 115 years later. The large duplex keeper’s house is gone, having been deliberately burned in 1960, and the pier was destroyed during the blizzard of 1978.  Overall, though,  most of the other buildings are still here, including the 1884 keeper’s house, the 1899 boathouse, the 1889 oil house, and the 1876 fog signal building, which now also houses a generator. And, of course, the lighthouse is still here, with few exterior changes aside from the removal of one of the metal bands, leaving only five in its current appearance. It is the second oldest active lighthouse structure in the country, predated only by the 1764 Sandy Hook Light in New Jersey.

Despite being automated in 1998, Boston Light is still staffed by a resident keeper, although this is largely a ceremonial role. Along with most of the other harbor islands, Little Brewster Island is now part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Unlike some of the larger islands, there is no ferry service or public access to Little Brewster, although the lighthouse can be seen from passing boats, from the mainland in Hull, or from Georges Island, as shown in the present-day photo.

Edgar Allan Poe Birthplace, Boston

The birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe at 62 Carver Street (modern-day Charles Street South) in Boston, around 1931-1932. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

Boston was the literary center of the country during the mid-19th century, and many of the leading writers of this period were born in Boston or the vicinity. Perhaps the most famous of these was Edgar Allan Poe, although ironically he spent only short periods of his life in Boston, and he tended to have a dim view of his native city and the literary luminaries who lived here.

This may have been, at least in part, because of a very different family situation. While most of the other prominent Boston writers came from affluent, respectable families, Poe’s parents had been actors, a profession that, in early 19th century Boston, was seen as a lowly, possibly immoral profession. Orphaned as a young child, Poe would go on to lead a rather nomadic life, frequently moving between different cities on the east coast and eventually culminating with his mysterious death in Baltimore at the age of 40.

Poe was the second child of David and Eliza Poe, who lived in Boston from the fall of 1806 until the spring of 1809. Although they were both actors, Eliza was evidently the more talented of the two. She had begun her acting career at the age of nine, and by fifteen she was married to fellow actor Charles Hopkins. However, he died three years later in 1805, and Eliza remarried to David Poe in April 1806. Compared to Eliza, David was relatively new to acting. He had been studying to become a lawyer, but in 1803, at the age of 19, he abandoned it for the stage. Contemporary accounts indicate that he did seem to have some natural talent, but he also suffered from debilitating stage fright, which often caused him to speak his lines too rapidly, or forget them altogether.

The Poes moved to Boston a few months after their marriage, and their first appearance here was on October 13, 1806 at the Federal Street Theatre, in the comedy Speed the Plough by Thomas Morton. By this point Eliza was about six months pregnant, but she did not let this slow her down. She continued to perform in a variety of plays until about two weeks until the birth of her first child, William Henry Poe, on January 30, 1807. David continued to act during this time, including several supporting roles in Shakespearean plays, such as Laertes in Hamlet and Malcolm in Macbeth. However, Eliza’s maternity leave was short, and she was back on stage within less than a month.

During their time in Boston, the Poes performed alongside some of the most prominent actors of the era, including Thomas Abthorpe Cooper and James Fennell. During Cooper’s visit to Boston in early 1808, the Poes had a variety of supporting roles in his Shakespearean performances. Among other roles, David was cast as Malcolm in Macbeth, and Eliza played Ophelia in Hamlet, with Cooper as Hamlet. David and Eliza also performed together alongside Cooper, appearing as the Duke of Albany and Cordelia, respectively, in King Lear.

However, despite their successes on the stage, the Poes evidently struggled financially. They had to sustain an busy schedule of performances in order to make ends meet, and in the spring of 1808 they were the subject of several benefit performances. As noted by Arthur Hobson Quinn in Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, these were special performances where the recipients would keep all of the profits, after the expenses from the performance were paid. The first benefit was held on March 21, with the Poes starring in The Virgin of the Sun. In advertising for the event, the Boston Commercial Gazette emphasized Eliza’s talents and work ethic, writing:

She has supported and maintained a course of characters, more numerous and arduous than can be paralleled on our boards, during any one season. Often she has been obliged to perform three characters on the same evening, and she has always been perfect in the text, and has well comprehended the intention of her author.

After reminding the readers of the many roles that she had preformed with such proficiency, the article concluded with:

We hope, therefore, that when the united recommendations of the talents of both Mr. & Mrs. Poe, are put up for public approbation, that the public will not only not discountenance virtuous industry and exertion to please, but will stretch forth the arm of encouragement to cheer, to support and to save.

However, with benefit performances such as this one, the intended recipients would earn the profits, but they would also be on the hook for making up the difference in the event that the proceeds did not cover the expenses. This was evidently the case for their March 21 performance, because a second benefit was subsequently scheduled for April 18. In advance of this, the Boston Democrat published an advertisement that noted:

[F]rom the great failure and severe losses sustained by their former attempts, they have been induced, by the persuasion of friends, to make a joint effort for public favor, in hopes of that sanction, influence, and liberal support, which has ever yet distinguished a Boston audience.

For this second benefit, they chose Friedrich von Schiller’s melodrama The Robbers, with David playing the role of Francis de Moor and Elizabeth playing Amelia. In organizing the benefit, they were assisted by their friends and fellow actors, Mr. and Mrs. Usher. The Poes and Ushers frequently performed together, and this would later lead to speculation about whether the Ushers were, many years later, the namesakes for one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous short stories.

It does not seem clear whether or not this second benefit was more successful than the first one. However, another source of speculation for later biographers was the fact that their second son, Edgar, was born exactly nine months and one day after this performance.

Because of incomplete records, it is hard to determine how many different houses the Poes lived in during their time in Boston. Their only confirmed place of residence was the house shown in the first photo, at what would become 62 Carver Street. They were definitely living here in the spring of 1808, when David Poe was listed here on tax records. And, although it is impossible to say for certain, the house is the most likely candidate for having been the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born on January 19, 1809. Various sources have, at times, proposed 33 Hollis Street as his birthplace, but this conclusion was based on a faulty interpretation of city records.

The brick, Federal-style rowhouse at 62 Carver Street was built sometime after 1801 by Henry Haviland, a stucco worker who also ran a boarding house here. Haviland was living here in 1808, and his tenants included the Poes, John Hildreth, actor Daniel Grover, and ropemakers Joshua Barrett and Moses Andrew.

As was the case with her first pregnancy, Eliza Poe continued her busy acting schedule until shortly before Edgar was born. On January 13, just six days before he was born, she was playing the role of a peasant in The Brazen Mask, and she was back on stage just three weeks after his birth, appearing as Rosamonda in Abaellino, the Great Bandit on February 10.

Poe’s childhood in Boston proved to be very short-lived, with he and his family departing at the end of the season. David’s final role in Boston appears to have been Laertes in Hamlet on April 21, with Eliza playing the role of his sister Ophelia. Eliza would continue to appear in plays over the next few weeks, before concluding her time in Boston as Miss Marchmont in False Delicacy on May 12. The Poes subsequently departed Boston, and they were performing in New York by early September.

Unfortunately, life did not get any easier for the Poes after leaving Boston. David received negative reviews from some of the New York critics, and his final performance was on October 18, in Grieving’s a Folly. He was supposed to appear in the same play again two nights later, but a different play had top be substituted at the last minute, with contemporary accounts citing Poe’s “sudden indisposition” as the reason. This was often a euphemism for intoxication, leading some to suggest that Edgar Allan Poe may have inherited his alcoholism from his father. Either way, it marked the end of David’s acting career.

Eliza continued to act, and in December 1810 she gave birth to her third child, Rosalie, whose paternity is sometimes questioned. Eliza died a year later, likely from tuberculosis, at the age of 24, and David appears to have died around the same time. The three children were then split up, with young Edgar ending up with John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar Allan Poe would eventually return to Boston several times over the course of his life. In 1827, while in the army, he was stationed at Fort Independence on Castle Island. It was during this time that Poe published his first work, Tamerlane and Other Poems. This 40-page pamphlet was printed in Boston by Calvin F. S. Thomas, although Poe’s name did not appear on it. Instead, the title page only indicated that it was “by a Bostonian.” However, only 50 copies were printed, and it received little attention. Today, only 12 copies are known to survive, making it one of the rarest books in the history of American literature.

Poe returned to Boston again in October 1845. By this point, he was a well-established author, and the Boston Lyceum invited him to speak at the Odeon Theatre. Although renamed, this was the same theater where, nearly 40 years earlier, Poe’s parents had regularly performed during their three seasons in Boston. Poe drew a sell-out crowd for the event, with the expectation that he would be presenting a new poem. Instead, however, he recited one of his early, obscure poems, “Al Aaraaf.” Written when he was a teenager, this was his longest poem, and it was particularly difficult to understand. Many in Boston saw this performance as an insult to the city, and Poe’s later remarks did little to mollify Bostonians.

Despite having been born in Boston, Poe had little regard for the city. This was particular true for its literary figures, whom he generally saw as overly moralistic in their writings, and he often referred to Bostonians as “Frogpondians,” after the frog pond on Boston Common. In responding to criticism of the Lyceum event, Poe published an essay in the Broadway Journal on November 1. In it, he acknowledged that he was born in Boston, writing:

We like Boston. We were born there—and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well liked in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their Common is no common thing—and the duck-pond might answer—if its answer could be heard for the frogs.

Poe would make at least one more notable visit to Boston, in the fall of 1848. It was a little less than two years since the death of his wife Virginia, and he was in love with a married woman, Nancy “Annie” Richmond. Apparently out of desperation, he attempted suicided by overdosing on laudanum while he was in Boston. He was unsuccessful, but he ultimately died less than a year later in Baltimore, under mysterious circumstances.

In the meantime, Poe’s birthplace here in Boston would outlive him by more than a century, although given his disdain for Boston it seems unlikely that he would have been particularly concerned about its fate. And, Bostonians seemed similarly apathetic about it. While the homes of Poe’s Boston-area contemporaries like Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Longfellow have been preserved as museums, this was not to be the case for Poe’s birthplace.

By the early 20th century, this house was widely recognized as having been Poe’s birthplace, and a photograph and short article even appeared in the Boston Globe in 1924. At the time, the house was one in a long row of three-story brick buildings on the east side of Carver Street. The house on the right side of it, at 64 Carver Street, was still standing at that point, but it was demolished by the early 1930s, as shown by the parking area on the right side of the first photo in this post.

As for Poe’s birthplace at 62 Carver Street, its appearance likely had not changed much by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1930s. And, for that matter, its use had not changed much in the intervening years either. As was the case when Poe’s parents lived here in the early 1800s, it was likewise being used as a boardinghouse when the 1930 census was conducted several years before the photo was taken. According to the census, the boardinghouse was run by Margaret Trauvetter, a 53-year-old widow who lived here with her brother and seven boarders, all of whom were either single or widowed men. Most had working-class jobs, including a sailor, two clerks, a janitor, a storekeeper, and a stableman.

The house would remain here for several more decades, but in 1959 it was acquired by Boston Edison, which operated the adjacent Carver Street Substation. The house was demolished soon after, in order to expand the parking area for the substation. Today, the site is still a parking area, hidden behind a tall chain link fence with a privacy screen and barbed wire.

Although Poe’s birthplace at 62 Carver Street is gone, the two adjacent houses to the left are still standing, although because of street realignments this is now Charles Street South, rather than Carver Street. These two houses are the last survivors of the many three-story brick houses that once stood on this block, but they were built sometime in the late 1800s, so they would not have been here when Poe was born. However, there might still be one surviving remnant of Poe’s birthplace. The brick wall on the right side of the building in the present-day scene is a party wall that it once shared with its long-demolished neighbor. Because this was a shared wall, and because 62 Carver Street was much older, it is entirely possible that this was the original north wall of Poe’s birthplace, dating back to when it was built in 1801.

Overall, because his short childhood in Boston, and likely because of the mutual hostility between Poe and his native city, his origins here in Boston are often overlooked. However, he is not entirely forgotten here. While there are no markers here at this site to indicate that it was his birthplace, Poe is memorialized by a statue a few blocks to the north of here, at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South. Unveiled in 2014, it features Poe, accompanied by a raven, walking with a partially-open briefcase, with papers spilling out of it. It is located only a short walk away from the frog pond on the Common that he was so fond of mocking, although—perhaps fittingly—the statue shows him walking away from the Common, with his back turned to Beacon Hill, where many of Boston’s elite had lived during his lifetime.

Courtyard, Boston Public Library (2)

The courtyard at the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, in 1896. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the view of the Boston Public Library’s courtyard looking diagonally across from the southeast corner. As explained in more detail in the previous post, this courtyard was very briefly the home of Bacchante and Infant Faun, a bronze statue by sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies. Installed here in November 1896, the statue generated significant controversy, both for its nudity and for its apparent celebration of drunkenness. It was placed in storage after just two weeks, and it was subsequently transferred to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, where it remains to this day.

The first photo was taken sometime in 1896, probably prior to the installation of the statue. The library had been completed a year earlier, and this courtyard was one of its most distinctive architectural features. Charles Follen McKim, the building’s architect, had drawn inspiration for the courtyard from the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, and his design features arcaded walkways around three sides, with a balcony on the fourth side. He had also intended to place the statue in the pool in the center of the courtyard, and had presented it as a gift to the library, but he subsequently withdrew his gift in the wake of the controversy.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this scene remains much the same as it did when the library first opened. However, one noticeable difference is the center of the courtyard, which, in addition to the landscaping, now features a replica of the statue that had once caused so much controversy. In the 1990s, the library commissioned a replica of the original, and it was installed here in 1999.

Courtyard, Boston Public Library

The courtyard at the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, around 1909. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

The main branch of the Boston Public Library is one of the city’s great architectural landmarks, and one of its most distinctive features is this courtyard in the middle of the building. Architect Charles Follen McKim modeled it after the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome, and has arcaded walkways on three sides, with a balcony on the fourth side and a pool and fountain in the center.

The library was completed in 1895, and the following year this fountain was very briefly the home of Bacchante and Infant Faun, a bronze sculpture by Frederick William MacMonnies. Cast in 1894, this statue features a nude reveler holding grapes above her head in her right hand, with a young child under her left arm. MacMonnies gave the statue to McKim as a gift, and he in turn presented it to the Boston Public Library for display here in the courtyard.

However, this decision sparked considerable controversy here in Boston, with critics objecting to both its gratuitous nudity and its apparent celebration of drunkenness. It was the subject of debate for several months leading up to its installation under the cover of darkness on the night of November 14, 1896. It was made available for public viewing two days later, with many praising its artistic merit while others denounced it as immoral.

Among the latter was the Reverend James Boyd Brady, pastor of the People’s Temple. Preaching his Sunday sermon the day before the statue was presented to the public, Brady decried it as “an infernal representation of strumpetry” and “a statue of smut and obscenity,” and declared that he would rather see a memorial to Benedict Arnold or John Wilkes Booth than “a memorial to the worst type of harlotry with which the earth was ever afflicted.” He was particularly concerned about the statue corrupting the morals of the youth, because “the innocent and the chaste will get their first intimations of vice” from this statue.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the months of controversy, the statue drew quite a crowd when it was finally put on public display on November 16. Reporting the next day, the Boston Globe noted that, at any given time, there was a crowd of around 200 people gathered here to view the statue. The newspaper went on to describe:

There were all sorts among the visitors, the connoisseur, or the man or woman whom everybody else thought must be a connoisseur because he or she presumed to compare the bronze woman’s curves with other nude celebrities, the clergyman looking possibly for a text, the stout woman with the lorgnette, the girl with her drawing materials who spends her days in front of De Chavanne’s and Abbey’s mural decorations, students of both sexes galore, down to the man who simply “knew a good shape” when he saw one.

Based on the Globe’s coverage, the opinion among the visitors seems to have been generally favorable. The article included several amusing anecdotes of reactions from various people, including one “very little man, not a connoisseur, but a practical thinker,” who did not understand what all the fuss was about. Knowing that one of the main objections was the portrayal of drunkenness, the man carefully studied the statue and concluded that the woman was not, in fact, intoxicated. He explained his reasoning:

Well, I don’t know nothing about her, but I tell you that she didn’t [get drunk]. Look at the way she’s standing. A woman couldn’t drink much wine and balance herself and the kid the way she’s doing, with her best foot up in the air. She’s all right, I tell you. I’ve seen ‘em.

The statue continued to draw crowds over the next two weeks, including one particularly busy Sunday afternoon on November 22, when an estimated ten thousand people came to see the statue between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. As was the case on the first day, many visitors saw the statue as harmless, with the Globe quoting one woman who observed that it was no worse than the artwork on display next door at the Museum of Fine Arts. The Globe even mentioned how there were mothers who brought young children to see the statue, despite the corrupting influence that some feared it would have.

These generally favorable reactions among visitors did little to mollify the statue’s critics, though. Reverend Brady continued to be particularly vocal in his opposition. Speaking a week after the statue went on display, he feared that “Many an innocent girl, in a giddy mood, will look upon it and decide that the way to enjoyment and admiration is to throw away morality.” He went on to direct his anger at the library’s trustees, declaring:

Listen, if there is any one here that represents these trustees and art commissioners! I charge them with treason, treason, treason! And no petty treason, but high treason—treason to purity and sobriety and virtue and Almighty God.

The statue ultimately remained here in the courtyard for just two weeks, before being removed for the winter. This was not done in response to the criticism, but instead to protect it from the weather. The intent was to reinstall it in the spring, but over the winter the opposition only intensified, and McKim eventually decided to withdraw his gift in April 1897. The statue remained in storage at the library for several more months, but McKim subsequently offered it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum accepted the gift, and the statue was moved out of Boston in June. For a time, it was located in the Great Hall, as shown in this earlier post, but it is now on display in the Engelhard Court, as shown in this 2023 photo:

In the meantime, the first photo here in this post was taken about 13 years after all of this controversy had been resolved, and it shows the courtyard looking diagonally across from the northwest corner. The pool is visible on the left side of the scene, but it has just a simple fountain in the space where the statue had very briefly stood in November 1896.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the courtyard of the Boston Public Library remains largely unchanged. It continues to be a quiet place to read and reflect in the midst of a busy city, while also serving as a venue for everything from musical performances to weddings. However, the one major difference between these two photos is the statue in the fountain, which is a replica of the Bacchante and Infant Faun statue that had generated so much controversy. By the early 1990s, the library had begun expressing interest in returning the statue to its original location here. The Metropolitan Museum of Art balked at this idea, so the library instead commissioned this replica, which was installed in 1999.