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August 2011

A Boy's Quilt

89_30_1T1 Quiltmaking in America has a strong association as women’s work. But, men and boys occasionally did make a quilt. The quilt seen here, from the National Heritage Museum collection, was made by a young man, Kenneth Artemus Snow (b. 1862), in the late 1870s.

Boys and young men often made quilts as a way to pass the time while bedridden due to illness or injury. Indeed, the family history of this quilt tells us that Snow spent several months in bed as a teenager and his mother gave him these materials, which he stitched together in his own design. By 1880, Snow seems to have recovered from his illness. The U.S. Census taken that year lists him as a grocery clerk.

In addition to the vibrant patterned silks and embroidery in the top, the quilt includes a printed commemorative ribbon from the 250th anniversary celebration of the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, held in 1886. The inclusion of this ribbon suggests that, although Snow made some of the blocks, his mother may have finished the quilt top years later. And it was almost a century later still before women of the Whitman, Massachusetts, Baptist Church attached the backing and tied the quilt in 1970. In 1989, Snow’s granddaughter generously gave the quilt to the Museum.

Crazy Quilt, ca. 1886, Kenneth Artemus Snow (b. 1862), Dorchester, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Muriel I. and Otis B. Oakman Jr., 89.30.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

Reference: Aimee E. Newell, “Boys’ Quilts,” in Lynne Zacek Bassett, ed., Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth, Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2009, 224-227.


New Version of Popular School Program

CK presentation The National Heritage Museum is excited to announce the new version of our popular third-grade program, “Colonial Kids.”  The existing program offered only a peek into the daily life of a colonial-era Lexington family.  By taking a cue from one of the grade 3 standards –Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for History and Social Sciences (“Explain important political, economic, and military developments leading to and during the American Revolution”) – and incorporating new research, we refocused the program to highlight one of Lexington’s most interesting pre-Revolutionary War events. 

On December 13, 1773, Lexington residents took deliberate action to go along with the town’s recently drafted “Resolves against the Tea Act,” subsequently published in newspapers around the colonies.  According to a contemporary article, “… they brought together every ounce (of tea) contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  This event, overlooked in history for its much more spectacular sister-protest, the Boston Tea Party, that took place three days later, demonstrated Lexington’s role as a quiet hotbed of rebellious rhetoric.  So, for this new program, we chose December 13, 1773, as the day we would interpret and incorporated that event into our story.

To make our “day in the life” concept work, we chose an historic Lexington family with young children.  Students can easily relate to children their own age. We also wanted a family that might have had some involvement with the tea burning.  We settled on the Benjamin and Sarah Brown family.  They had seven children between the ages of 3 and 25 at home on December 13, 1773. The Browns were also well represented in primary sources, including tax assessments, Benjamin’s will, and town meeting records. We even learned that the town paid for daughter Sarah to keep school in the family’s house.  Her father, Benjamin, was also one of the select group of five men unanimously chosen to draft the “Resolves against the Tea Act” at Lexington town meeting.

To develop engaging activities, we researched the types of chores members of the household would do at that time of year, as well as the types of food they ate, the clothing they wore, and leisure activities they engaged in.  Unusual questions popped up during the research, such as “Did the Browns own a tall-case clock in 1773?” (likely) and “Was there a bell ringer for the town?” (yes).  With further research into primary and secondary sources, and help from historian Mary Fuhrer, we were able to find answers.

The final program contains activities to teach students about clothing, dairy production, and schooling, as well as critical thinking questions to help them understand the concept of “protest” and the similarities or differences between lifestyles in 1773 and now.  Upon testing the program, we found third graders studying the Revolutionary War relate well to the concepts of protest and boycott.  They also love to hear that Lexington beat Boston to the punch by burning their tea three days before Samuel Adams and friends dumped the East India Company’s tea into the harbor.

The new “Colonial Kids” program is now available for school groups in grades K-3.  For information on this and other tours and programs, and to find out how to make reservations, please visit the National Heritage Museum’s website.  You can also see our previous post on the Lexington Tea Bonfire.


Another Mystery to Be Solved...

2009_022DP1 In 2009, the National Heritage Museum was given a fez for its collection. Normally, we consider the prospective gift of a fez very carefully, because we are fortunate to have an extensive collection of these regalia items and we try not to collect objects that duplicate our existing holdings. However, this fez was unusual. As you can see in the photo to the left, it is green and embroidered with a camel and the words “Caliphs of Bagdad.”

As I cataloged it in our computerized database, I did some research trying to determine what group might have used it originally. Unfortunately, I could not find any information about when or where it came from and the donor could only tell me that it was passed down in his wife’s family. So, in November 2009, I turned to the readers of The Northern Light, the quarterly magazine of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., and asked for their help with identifying it.

I received a number of responses, including several that offered plausible leads. A reader from Springfield, Massachusetts, told me that the Association of Shrine Oriental Bands of North America has a subsidiary group of Past Presidents called the Caliphs, but admitted that he never saw a fez for that specific group. A man from New Jersey asked how I knew that this fez was Masonic. And, as I was quick to tell him, I do not know if this fez is Masonic.  It may well have been used by a non-Masonic fraternal group.

Indeed, several readers suggested that it might come from other groups. One mentioned the Phi Delta Kappa fraternity explaining that the group often tried to come up with new ideas to promote interest over the years and that this fez might be one of those ideas. A Pennsylvania reader called in to tell me about the Princes of Bagdad, a group associated with the Knights of Malta, but research into their logo did not turn up any similarities. And, a reader from Iowa suggested that perhaps the fez was associated with the fraternal group, the Order of Camels, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1920. If anyone knows of regalia from that group, I would love to hear about it or see a photograph.

Perhaps the most exciting response to my query was the arrival in the mail of a second green “Caliphs of Bagdad” fez! A reader from Pennsylvania had received the fez from a friend thirty years previously and generously decided to donate it to the Museum (while we try not to collect multiple copies of the same item, we often make an exception with textile items because it is helpful to have a second piece that can rotate into an exhibition and protect them both from overexposure to the lighting in the gallery). Unfortunately, like the donor of the first fez, this donor did not know where his friend had originally found the fez.

From my perspective, two of the leads I received were the most plausible. The first came from two different Northern Light readers, one from Michigan and one from Ohio, who called in and told me that they knew of green fezzes being awarded as honorary gifts in their respective communities. One man said that it was the Knights of Columbus that did this, while the other cited an example of a Shrine Temple doing the same. The second came from a reader in New Jersey who tracked down a newspaper account of the 1937 Shrine convention in Detroit, Michigan. That article, from the June 23, 1937, issue of The Detroit News reads “The Chicago unit, the largest delegation, was next with a pink and white striped group of caliphs drawing a golden sphinx and a live camel and a band of 110 musicians wearing white and green and flying yellow pennants…” A green and yellow fez seems like it might have been just the right headwear for this group.

What do you think? Have you ever seen a fez like this? Do you know when and where it was originally worn? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Fez, early 1900s, National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Stanley A. McCollough, 2009.022. Photograph by David Bohl.