Posts Tagged ‘history’

Submitted by Penni Martorell, Wistariahurst Museum Curator and Holyoke City Historian.

In recent years, I have proudly brandished the title of “history nerd.” It was only recently that I realized that I was not like most of my peers. I have always been the one who wanted to know more about an item or artifact–who made it, where did it come from, how was it used and why don’t we still use them. As I reflect, I realize this character trait comes from spending many days after school at my aunt and uncle’s antique store. Many hours were spent in “The Shop” under the guise of dusting for a few cents spending money. But mostly I was imagining, playing with, and handling the many wooden, ceramic, glass, decorative and furniture items. I can still conjure up the smells, textures, and colors of many of the standard items—ceramic jugs, wooden bowls, candle holders and molds, tin boxes and all sorts of chairs.

What a gift my aunt and uncle gave to me, allowing me to experience these material items, with a quick lesson in colonial American history as my Uncle walked by posing questions–what it was used for, where did I think it was made, and why it might be valuable. The wash basins, the cooking utensils, the medical instruments, the tables and chairs—they all had a story. I learned to distinguish the claw and ball feet of certain chairs; how a flintlock rifle mechanism worked, and how dovetailed drawers are put together. Documents, newspapers, books, and photographs backing up the history I was learning at school. But nothing was more exciting than helping out at the local historical society on occasion. Here there was a colonial schoolhouse set up with desks, slates, and primers for children like me. And oh what fun it was when my Aunt donning colonial period clothing as the school marm and teaching school for visiting patrons.

For me History has always involved material culture—the physical objects of the past left for us to examine and explore, and providing all the fodder necessary to drive an historians’ research and inquiry.

So it is no surprise that museum work was a natural fit. For me there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child engage their imagination with what it might have been like in the past; to hear their questions; to see their faces light up with curiosity; to hear the who, what, when, why and how questions uttered with hands raised and the “Oo, Oo, Oos!”.

Thankfully there are many folks who have never grown tired of pondering history. The pioneer valley is full of small historical museums, societies and associations staffed by tireless volunteers who also enjoy sharing material culture with anyone who is interested. Perhaps they too had a historically engaged childhood.

I encourage you, reader, to take advantage of these local historical sites to challenge your children to ponder and question the materials that fill the rooms. And if you don’t know where to start — it is here — exploring the Pioneer Valley History Network website.

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By Barbara Pelissier

Did the individual you are researching perform a heroic deed or even die while trying to save the life of another?  If so, there’s a possibility that a Carnegie Hero Award was bestowed upon that individual or, posthumously, upon their surviving family members.  Such was the case for Patrick O’Connor of Southampton, Massachusetts.

 

In the winter of 1908 Patrick died while attempting to save two young brothers who had fallen through the ice on a mill pond in the neighboring town of Northampton. With Christmas approaching, the Daily Hampshire Gazette newspaper established a fund for Patrick’s widow and two young children.  As contributions from readers and Valley residents poured in, theGazette’s editor wisely pursued long-term relief for the surviving family through the Carnegie Hero Fund. By early spring, Harriet O’Connor was awarded a monthly allotment of $35 for life . Both children received $5 per month until the age of 16.  The Fund also sent Mrs. O’Connor a Carnegie Hero medallion, which Patrick’s grateful grandchild now treasures. A Carnegie Hero gravestone marker will soon adorn his final resting place. In the meantime, the descendants of Mr. O’Connor recently gathered at his grave site to honor his sacrifice: Patrick O’Connor of Southampton Honored by Family for 1908 Rescue Bid

 

Locally, Longmeadow’s W. Howard Aureswald, Florida’s Chester A. Burdick, Northampton’s Ubald A. Arel and, posthumously, Springfield’s Cirlo Achille were all Carnegie Hero Awardees.

Because heroism never goes out of style, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission keeps busy with their investigations and awards.  Their inspirational centennial book, A Century of Heroes, can be requested by phone or online.  Their newsletter, imPULSE, is also free of charge.  The June 2012 imPULSE featured 19 year old awardee Nathan Yassen, from Brockton, Massachusetts. Fortunately, Nathan recovered from the effects of smoke inhalation after saving his 97 year old neighbor when her house caught fire one night last year.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a private foundation established in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie.  Contact them at (800) 447-8900 or email: carnegiehero@carnegiehero.org Search for awardees or learn more about the Carnegie Hero Fund at: www.carnegiehero.org

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