Archive for the ‘The Cambridge Room’ Category

It’s always very satisfying when people contact us to donate items that fill in gaps in our collections or enrich already rich materials. After our post about Salvatore Valente a few weeks ago, our friends at the City of Cambridge’s Veterans’ Services Department brought us two items previously in their offices that are especially appropriate for the Cambridge Room. One was a replacement Purple Heart for Salvatore Valente, which we’ve added to our small Valente collection. The other was a wooden plaque that clearly belongs with our wonderful World War I memorial plaques collection, recently digitized and available through Digital Commonwealth.

Plaque honoring William J. White, who died in 1918 during his service in World War I.
William J. White from Cambridge, died in World War I, 1918.

William J. White’s plaque will join its comrades online eventually, but for now you can read more about him in this account of his memorial service from the Cambridge Tribune, June 22, 1918.

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Those of you who know the Cambridge Room well will notice there’s someone new in the office (and behind the blog) these days. My name is Christine Di Bella, and I’m here temporarily filling in for the regular Cambridge Room archivist, Alyssa Pacy, who will be back in a few months. Alyssa left me an archives that’s in an amazingly well organized state and wonderfully detailed instructions so though I’ve only been on the job a few days I feel at home already.

While I’ve worked as an archivist for a number of years in a variety of academic and non-profit settings, and have even worked in Cambridge before, I’ve never before worked as an archivist devoted primarily to Cambridge history. But since one of the many things I’ve always really enjoyed about being an archivist is that it gives me a chance to explore so many different areas that I might not have naturally found on my own, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be here digging into the Cambridge Room’s wonderful collections, and even more excited to have already met and corresponded with a number of people needing help from our collections. Every question helps me learn more, and helps me help all of you in a better and more informed way. (And even though it won’t work for every question, I always love an excuse to delve more into our wonderful Historic Cambridge Newspapers Collection; inevitably I’ll come across something fun like the short article and illustration below.)



From Cambridge Tribune, Volume XLV, Number 23, 5 August 1922, available through the Cambridge Room’s Historic Cambridge Newspapers collection

I don’t expect to know everything about Cambridge history by the time I leave here, but I’m really looking forward to knowing much more than I do now. Your questions will really help me reach that goal, and hopefully help you in the process. So please keep those questions coming! If you have suggestions for me of Cambridge-related resources that I should be sure to check out, please let me know in the comments here or by emailing me at cdibella@cambridgema.gov. (You can also stop by the Cambridge Room’s regular hours or call the regular Cambridge Room number too.) I look forward to hearing from you.

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George Fowler, from Cambridge, died in World War I, 1918. 

The Cambridge Room in collaboration with Digital Commonwealth has digitized and made available a collection of memorial plaques depicting World War I soldiers from Cambridge who died.  The plaques were dedicated in 1928 by Edward W. Quinn, Mayor (1918-1929) and put on display in the War Memorial Athletic Facility in Cambridge, Mass. Each plaque bears an image of the solider on a copper alloy plate, a name plate (also copper alloy), the date of the year s/he died, and the following text: “In grateful remembrance of her War Dead, Presented by the Cambridge City Government, 1928, Edward W. Quinn, Mayor.” A memorial plaque to the soldiers was dedicated on May 30, 1936, by Edward W. Quinn and John D. Lynch, Mayor (1936-1937). The plaques were made by Imperishable Arts, Inc. in New York City. Also included with the collection is a temporary charter granted by the American Legion under Enos Sawyer on June 10, 1919.

Search the Cambridge World War I Memorial Plaques here.

Lena M. Sylvester, from Cambridge, died in World War I, 1918. 

James W. Mahan, from Cambridge, died in World War I, 1918. 

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Cambridge has many institutions.  Some have survived, others have fallen by the wayside. There’s a few I would not mind bringing back. One being, The Cambridge Club’s Ladies’ Night.

The Cambridge Club was formed in October of 1879 and sought “to promote literary and social culture among its members”.  The groups meetings spanned such topics as “The Car Problem in Harvard Square” (1887) to “The Worth of Women’s Education” (1901) to “My Winter in North Greenland” a 1925 presentation by Donald B. MacMillan, an American explorer. In fact, (at least according to the Cambridge Club’s view of history) it was a discussion at the Cambridge Club on the needs of the Cambridge Public Library that convinced Frederick H. Rindge to build the structure that still stands today.


Young’s Hotel, 1910 via wikimedia.org

Unfortunately, like so many of the institutions of that time period however, somehow those goals did not regularly include women. However, the last spring meeting of each year was Ladies’ Night. This included a huge dinner at Young’s Hotel in Boston as well as a lecture or perhaps music. In 1917 the Ladies’ Night included a talk and lantern-slide show on poor housing conditions in Boston and Cambridge while in 1898 it was a female soloist and a male “humorist”, known nowadays as a comedian.

The Cambridge Chronicle of 1893 stated that the hotel’s “large dining hall was none too large” since the guests that year included 75 male members almost all with a lady.

Young's Hotel Dining Room, 1910 via wikimedia.org

Young’s Hotel Dining Room, 1910 via wikimedia.org

In 1886, those tables were arrayed with foods from mock turtle soup, Roast Philadelphia Capon, Croquettes of lobster a la Cardinal and Banana Fritters, oh and Charlotte Russe, which lo and behold is a dessert in addition to a junior-sized clothing store. Below is the  menu for the 1886 Ladies’ Night from the Cambridge History Room’s Collection.

Sweets and Desserts?!?! Count me in.

Sweets and Desserts?!?! Count me in.

An menu from the Ladies’ Night in 1889 held by the NYPL shows roughly the same food but it seems that when the men dined alone they were a little more (by their standards) reserved. This undated menu someone has placed on Flickr shows a slightly less robust menu both food wise and decoration.

But the men of Victorian Cambridge had other means of entertainment. Read about an annual Cambridge City Council tradition from the time.

For more information check out The Cambridge Club, 1879 – 1939 at the Cambridge History Room or search the Cambridge Newspapers from the era online at Cambridge Public Library’s Historic Cambridge Newspaper Collection.

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ImageAs both current workers in this archives are vegetarians, it is a little odd to be writing a post about “The Romance in Meat” but that is the subtitle of this nifty little 1950s history of John P. Squire and Company, a slaughterhouse and meatpacker of Boston pork and ham from 1850 to the 1950s. Until its demise it had the distinction of being the oldest meatpacker in America.

Though lovers of Mad Men might consider the 1960s the pinnacle of American advertising, “Romance in Meat” is no slacker. The cardboard cover is made to look like wood and the whole little book is full of delightful little illustrations.


The travels and travails of the pigs from their pens to the buyer’s market is lovingly described, perhaps to break the stereotype of the Chicago slaughterhouse vis-a-vis Upton Sinclair.

On arrival at the Squire packing plant the hogs are unloaded from the cars and conducted to the company’s porker hotel – which “accommodates” 12,000. Here they rest from their journey for from 24 to 48 hours, in peaceful and quiet surroundings. They are carefully tended, fed and watered.

The book also explains some of the other uses of hogs other than eating the meat…

Hair goes into the manufacture of brushes and mattresses; some hides into leather;bones to fertilizer; glands for medicinal uses, and so on through innumerable fields.


Unfortunately John P. Squire and Company is no longer in business and even their abandoned factories burned down in 1963. A company that used to spread out over 20 acres in Cambridge. But just in case this post has gotten you hungy…feast your eyes on the fresh pork goodies Squire once served.


If you are interested in learning more about John P. Squire and Company take a look at a summary of their history at Cambridgehistory.org or come to the Cambridge History Room and check out such books as The Cambridge of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety Six.

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Jack Langstaff


Hi, Jessi here! I’m the summer intern at the Cambridge History Room. As an archives student at Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, I was able to spend my summer working with the papers of John Langstaff, creator of the Cambridge Revels, at the Cambridge History Room.

If you have ever seen the Christmas Revels you are already one step ahead of where I was when I started two months ago. I had never heard of Morris Dancing and being from Philadelphia originally, my idea of a Mummer’s Play was a bunch of men in neon colored suits with feathers.

But the Mummer’s plays, folks songs and Morris dancing that John Langstaff often showcased in his Revel’s programs has a long tradition in English folk society as a celebration of the Winter Solstice. Mummer’s Play are a tradition where costumed people used to go from door to door and perform sort of like carolers. St. George and the Dragon is a popular Mummer’s play and one that Langstaff used a lot, even turning it into a children’s book.

Mummer Stamp A British Stamp showcasing Medieval Mummers

Morris Dancing is another tradition that is showcased in the Revels. Just last week groups of Morris Dancers from across the states and even some groups from England performed in the Boston Common before the Shakespeare on the Common.

John Langstaff took many of these traditions and fashioned them into annual performances for first the Cambridge area, and then around the United States as associate Revels organizations began everywhere from New York to San Francisco. The Revels in Cambridge perform their annual Christmas Revels as well as Spring Revels, a Sea Revels on the Boston Harbor and many other performances.

Langstaff also was an educator, a host of a BBC children’s show on music and an author including the gorgeous, Frog Went A-Courtin’, that won the Caldecott Medal in 1956. The Cambridge Public Library currently is hosting an exhibit of items from John Langstaff’s collection. Come and see memorabilia from the earliest Revels, learn what famous actor once played the Dragon in a show and see how a children’s picture book, such as Langstaff’s, Hot Cross Buns.

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From sheldonbrown.com

St. George’s Dragon from sheldonbrown.com

John Langstaff and the Revels

The Christmas Revels is a Cambridge tradition that takes place each year in Sander’s Theatre. Join The Cambridge Room, the Library’s Archives and Special Collections in commemorating its creator, educator, director, singer and author John Langstaff. See memorabilia from the earliest Revels, learn what famous actor once played the Dragon in a show and see how a children’s picture book, such as Langstaff’s, Hot Cross Buns. Make sure to keep an eye out for QR codes to hear and see the musical production that is the Revels.

Exhibition Location: The Sakey Room on the first floor of the original Library building.

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