Childhood

Model Trains at the Museum, Feb. 15 & 16

MODEL TRAINS ARE BACK TO START FEBRUARY SCHOOL VACATION!

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library launches February School Vacation Week with a weekend filled with model railroading fun. The Northeast Ntrak Modular Railroad Club will be running its trains through its modular display at the Museum Saturday, February 15 from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 16 from 12 noon-4:00 p.m. Admission to the train display is $5/individual ($3 for members of either organization) and $7/family ($5 for families with membership to either organization).

The Ntrak trains are smaller in size than traditional model trains, but are just as much fun. Because the scale is smaller, the landscapes the trains travel through encompass more. The show features an enormous bridge, train yards, and a spectacular cliff face with multiple tunnels running in and out of the rocks. Trains climb mountain passes, shunt freight cars, and use branch lines to pick up and set out cars at the many industries and stations along the way.

2010_02_14_0237_CroppedA highlight of the dipslay is a model of the Zakim Bridge (see photo). Constructing the bridge took John Dunne three months; his efforts won him a first prize at the Springfield train show. Dunne, who has been building NTRAK for 40 years, notes, “If I built that bridge in HO (scale), it would be 32 feet long.”

Watch this video about the Ntrak show, recorded by the Lexington Minuteman newspaper.

For further information contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or visit www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

 


Model Trains at the Museum, Dec. 14 & 15

Model Train Weekend is Back this Holiday Season!

Model Train Weekend, Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15

IMG_3751This family-friendly event is the perfect outing for adults and children of all ages. The HUB Division of the National Model Railroad Association presents miles of track with trains running on multiple main lines as they chug up mountain climbs, past coal mines, through small villages and into tunnels. Some engines pull 50 cars past hundreds of charming venues including icy lakes with skaters, snow-covered farms, and urban skyscrapers.

Here's a great video clip recorded at the 2011 HUB Train Show, put together by the Lexington community access station LexMedia. Watch it and gain a sense of the passion for detail and accuracy that the model railroad hobbyists of the HUB Division put into this yearly show.

Model Train Weekend hours are 10 am to 4:30 pm on Saturday, December 14, and 12 pm to 4 pm on Sunday, December 15.  Admission is $7 per family.

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For information about this program or about the Museum, check our website, call our front desk at 781 861-6559 or write to programs@monh.org. 


The Lexington Alarm Letter on View at the Museum!

LexingtonAlarm_A95_011_1T1_croppedEach year around the time of the Patriots' Day holiday, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm Letter. Our document is a copy, made at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the morning of April 20th, of the original letter, written on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Connecticut copy was made by Brooklyn town officials from the original, now lost, which was sent by post rider to notify the colonies south of Massachusetts that war had begun. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the letter during its annual appearance between Wednesday, April 10 and Saturday, April 21. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday April 16.

What makes this hand-written document such an exciting piece of American history is the urgency with which it was written. As we read the text, we can sense the shock and concern of its author, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, a near neighbor to Lexington:

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o’Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at [David] Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others.

By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. [...]

I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

Why does Palmer emphasize the events in Lexington, failing to mention the confrontation in Concord? Perhaps he wanted to spread news that portrayed the colonists as victims in order to garner sympathy for the cause of rebellion? Certainly this was popular strategy of the patriotic colonial press, perfected in broadsheets such as "A List of the Names of the Provincials who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." 

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. The letter was written at 10 o'clock, only one half-hour after the skirmish at Concord's North Bridge. Not enough time had passed for witnesses of the second phase of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to reach Watertown. The encounter between Lexington's militia under Capt. John Parker and the force of 700 or so Regular Army soldiers sent out from Boston was much earlier, at around 4:30 a.m. Palmer has spoken to witnesses of the destruction at Lexington and fears that more unprovoked attacks are to come from the second brigade he has learned is on its way from Boston. His letter spreads the news of unfolding events, the outcome of which he does not yet know.

When you visit the Museum to view the Lexington Alarm letter, don't miss "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." In the exhibition, you'll find a map that traces how a group of riders spread the alarm throughout eastern Massachusetts. The adventures of some of these riders, such as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, are the stuff of legend. However, countless men rode through the night of April 18 and into the morning of April 19, 1775, to let the countryside know of the unfolding events. Colonial leaders who opposed the Crown, anticipating a move by the British Army, had set a communication network in place. Towns had prepared systems using bells, drums and gunshots to call militia units to gather at specified locations. Throughout April 19th, militias from 23 Massachusetts towns fought in the battles, and many more towns were alerted.

Those curious about how the people of Lexington experienced the beginning of the American Revolution, mark your calendars and and join us for our "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty" gallery talks. We'll be offering two this year, both on Saturday, April 14. Join us at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these free programs that explore of life in this small community where ordinary people took extraordinary actions and shaped history as a result.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credits

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler. Brooklyn, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, # A95/011/1.

 


Let's Go Shopping!

Shopping cart in gallery view two A long-time staff favorite, a toy shopping cart in our current exhibition Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection, is attracting visitors’ attention.

This charming toy is a child-sized cart (about 20” high) decorated inside and out with a colorful collage of the kinds of groceries that could have been found in a 1950s supermarket.  Made by the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company of East Hampton, Connecticut, the cart, like many of this maker’s products, incorporated a bell in its wheels.  As the cart rolled, bells in the wheels clattered and rang.  In fact, the original owner, who donated the object to the museum, recalled that this cart made an “incredible racket” when she and her brother played with it.  We tested the cart in the museum storage area and confirmed that it is very noisy indeed!

Founded in 1866, the business that became the Gong Bell Manufacturing Company started making toys a few years later.  A collector’s website shows many examples of the company’s products and notes that in 1921, a Gong Bell toy telephone proved to be one of the most popular toys on the market at the time.  Toys with bells in many shapes and sizes soon followed.  The museum’s cart, purchased in Connecticut around 1953, is just one example of the many kinds of push, pull and ride toys the company made.  In spite of this variety of offerings, less than ten years after this cart was made, Gong Bell went into bankruptcy. Collectors suggest that the emergence of plastic toys in the late 1950s made it hard for the Gong Bell Company, with its metal and wood products, to compete. 

A 1954 catalogdescribed this Gong Bell toy shopping cart as “chuck-full of Famous Brands groceries.”  For $2.98 you could take one home with the accompanying “miniature empty boxes of well-known merchandise” to fill it up.  Some of the brands highlighted on this cart include Jolly Time Popcorn, Sun-maid Raisins, Swift ham, Jello-o and Dreft laundry detergent.  Playthings, such as this cart, helped children learn about everyday tasks that they would undertake as adults, such as cooking, laundry or shopping.  Toys that used real product names made play more realistic.  They also, rather insidiously, cultivated brand loyalty and consumer awareness in young children.

If you have a story about your Gong Bell company shopping cart or another toy you have seen on view at the museum, please tell us about it, we would love to know more!

Toy Shopping Basket, ca. 1953. Gong Bell Manufacturing Company, East Hampton, Connecticut. National Heritage Museum, gift of Ellen G. Lenart, 93.015.1.

 


Do You Remember this Stroller?

2005_026_2a-cDI5 This Taylor Tot stroller is a popular feature in the National Heritage Museum's current exhibition, Curators’ Choice: Favorites from the Collection. Originally made in 1952, this particular stroller was purchased by the donor at an antiques shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1975. She used it to walk her son in 1975 and 1976.

Many visitors, as well as some of our staff, remember their own mothers using similar strollers during the 1950s, 1960s, or earlier. The Frank F. Taylor Company was founded in Norwood, Ohio, in 1921. In 1964, the company relocated to Frankfort, Kentucky, and continued to manufacture strollers in bright colors.

Did you ride in one of these strollers during your childhood? Tell us about it in a comment below!

Taylor Tot Stroller, 1952, Frank F. Taylor Company, Norwood, Ohio, National Heritage Museum, gift of Lilla Stevens Willey, 2005.026.2a-c.

 


The Adventures of Foxy Grandpa, Freemason. Or Is He?

77_36S1From 1900 to 1918, cartoonist Carl Edward Schultze (1867-1939) drew a popular comic strip about an old man and his young grandsons. Unlike “The Katzenjammer Kids” and other cartoons in which children get the better of their parents and grandparents, Schultze wanted the grandpa to be the smart one. Thus Foxy Grandpa was born. He plays practical jokes on the boys or makes their practical jokes on him backfire.

The comic strip’s popularity led to related products for sale, from toys and postcards to ornaments and doorstops. They also included the doll seen here. Made by Art Fabric Mills Company of New York, the dolls were sold in printed cloth sheets, meant to be cut out, sewn and stuffed. In a December 1904 issue of McCall’s magazine, the dolls were advertised for 25¢. Malted Cereal Company also promoted them. The Museum's doll is now featured in the exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection."

Carl Schultze signed the cartoons “Bunny”—his childhood nickname—along with a drawing of a rabbit. The doll holds a rabbit, Schultze’s alter-ego, under his arm.

The Museum purchased this doll in 1977 because of the watch fob he wears, which features a square and compasses, a common Masonic symbol. However, no one at the Museum has been able to identify a Masonic connection for the character. We haven't found any evidence that Schultze was a Mason, nor have we seen any references to Masonry in the cartoons.

Foxy_Grandpa_Rides_the_Goat_web Then a few weeks ago, I discovered a book entitled Foxy Grandpa Rides the Goat for sale. As mentioned in an earlier post, some late 19th- and early 20th-century initiation rituals involved gags, such as “pushing a hoodwinked (blindfolded) candidate around a lodge room on a wobbly-wheeled fake mechanical goat,” one of which we have in the Museum's collection. I thought the book’s title might be a reference to Freemasonry, as did my colleagues in the various collections departments, so we purchased the book. And we were disappointed to find only one reference to Freemasonry in the book:

“Come and ride our goat, dear Grandpa,
     We see you’re a mason true,”
Said the boys as they glanced below
     At the mortar on his shoe.

Between the watch fob and the poem, it seems clear that Schultze was familiar with Freemasonry. Membership in Masonic lodges was at a peak in the early 1900s, so even the uninitiated likely learned about the fraternity through friends, colleagues, or family members who were Masons.

Schultze's references to Freemasonry are rather subtle, perhaps noticeable only to those who are looking for them. Especially since we have not been able to identify a lodge that Schultze belonged to, these clues seem like his wry joke, in the same vein as the cartoon itself.

If you know anything about Carl E. Schultze's Masonic membership or activities, please leave a comment on this post.

Photographs:

"Foxy Grandpa" Doll, 1903-1912. Art Fabric Mills Company, New York. National Heritage Museum Collection, 77.36. 

Foxy Grandpa Rides the Goat. (Chicago: M.A. Donohue & Co.), 1908. National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives Collection