Category Archives: History

I Got Here As Fast As I Could

Hello folks! I apologize for my long absence. My writing time has been wholly focused on finishing my first novel, I Got Here As Fast As I Could. I’m so happy to say that it’s complete and available on Amazon.

The book is inspired by true stories of the heroes of the levee disaster in New Orleans in 2005. It’s also free today and tomorrow in memory of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. After years of research, writing, and rewriting, I’ve completed the story I wanted to tell. It’s dedicated to the people lost and the people who saved many lives during that terrible time.

I’ve started and stopped many novels in the past. This one was different. True, I started and stopped it as well, but I kept picking it up again. I would take a writing workshop, complete some revisions and get feedback, put it away for six months, then revise it again. This went on for about 5 years. This book is different because I cared so much about the story and the people it represented that I just had to finish it.

I hope you’ll check it out.

 

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 8): Mystic Seaport Lantern Light Tours

Mystic Seaport is one of Connecticut’s most beautiful and popular attractions, so it’s not surprising that the town is home to an enduring Christmas tradition.

The Lantern Light Tours have been going on for 35 years now. This special event is both a play and a walking tour. The play differs from year to year (this year’s story has a Twelve Days of Christmas theme), but the walking tour always covers the village of Mystic Seaport, which is the world’s largest maritime museum.

Elements of the tour include lantern-lit paths, horse-drawn carriages, traditional Christmas dance and song, and an appearance by Santa Claus.

While this is a tradition enjoyed by many families, it’s only recommended for children older than four years old as the audience must stand and/or walk for the entire performance. 

The Lantern Light tour is only part of the Christmas by the Sea celebration at Mystic Seaport (the celebration runs through December 27th). Other highlights include storytelling, crafts, music, and displays of Christmas trees and antique children’s toys. 

  

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12 Days OF New England Christmas Traditions (Day 4): The Flying Santa

On Christmas Day in 1929, a pilot from Friendship, Maine decided to make a few airborne deliveries to lighthouse keepers around midcoast Maine to thank them for their service. William (Bill) Wincapaw and his floatplane were well known in Rockport and around Penobscot Bay, as he helped to transport islanders who needed medical help back on the mainland. Wincapaw felt indebted to the lighthouse keepers and their families who made his flights safer as he battled fog and bad weather, so he decided to bring them some simple tokens of his appreciation like coffee, newspapers, and candy. When Wincapaw realized how much this simple act meant to the recipients, he turned it into an annual tradition that would spread throughout New England.

Wincapaw’s son, Bill Jr., eventually joined him on his trips and they expanded their reach to include Coast Guard stations as well as lighthouses and they started to cover the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Eventually, Wincapaw would dress as Santa Claus as he had been dubbed the “Flying Santa” by the lighthouse families. As their reach spread, Wincapaw and his son were able to get businesses to help support the cost of fuel and gifts. He began to bring toys and dolls to the children on his route and continued the tradition of providing coffee, newspapers, and other simple household items that were normally difficult to deliver to the lighthouses’ remote locations.

After the Wincapaws relocated from Maine to Winthrop, Massachusetts, Bill Jr.’s high school history teacher, Edward Rowe Snow, an aviation enthusiast and author of many books about the history of the New England coast, began to help out with the annual Christmas delivery. Father and son would take a northern route, covering Maine, while Snow would deliver to the coast of Southern New England. It continued this way through much of the 1930s. During the war, the 1942 deliveries were cancelled due to the Flying Santas’ military commitments. The following year, the Flying Santas got special permission from military officials to continue their route. They had their aircraft painted with a Christmas slogan to make it clear to the anti-aircraft batteries of New England that they were not an enemy plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1946, both Wincapaws as well as Snow were back on the job, and they delivered packages to 118 lighthouses and Coast Guard Stations around New England. The following year, Wincapaw Sr. had a heart attack while piloting his plane in Rockport. He and his passenger both died when his plane plunged into the water shortly after takeoff. Edward Snow took over and expanded the Flying Santa route to cover 176 lighthouses and Coast Guard Stations from Maine to Florida.

Snow would continue his deliveries every Christmas for decades (with the exception being 1974, when most visits had to be cancelled due to bad weather). Over the years, as the Flying Santa tradition became more publicized, corporate sponsors contributed aircrafts and gifts and local television stations covered the Flying Santa’s route and deliveries. Snow had to adapt to changing FAA regulations and modernization. He would eventually use a boat to deliver to some islands in Casco Bay and Boston Harbor due to flight restrictions, and when automated lighthouses meant many lighthouse keepers and their families moved away, Snow still made deliveries to islanders and Coast Guard stations.

After Snow’s death in 1982, the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Massachusetts took over the annual flights for several years. Coast Guard members often served as Flying Santas into the 1990s. The route was cut back due to the fact that so many lighthouses were automated by then, but the flights, now run by the Friends of the Flying Santa, continue to take place every year, making deliveries to many of the stops along the New England coast that Bill Wincapaw visited more than 80 years ago.

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 3): The Vermont Country Store

The famous Vermont Country Store has been a shopper’s paradise since 1946. The store, with two locations in Vermont and a thriving catalog business, is run by Lyman Orton and his three sons.

The store is known for its vast stock of both practical and nostalgia items; their motto is “Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find.” Peruse their catalog or wander their sprawling Weston or Rockingham, Vermont stores and you’ll find an impressive selection of nightgowns, blankets and sheets, baking tools, Vermont’s famous Common Crackers, and other run-of-the-mill household goods. But and you’ll also come across many nostalgia products, like Tangee lipstick, old-fashioned candy like Mary Janes and Clark Bars, and Fisher Price’s old pull-string phone and milk truck toys. As a history buff, I had a blast visiting the Weston store and wandering through the bins and shelves that evoked old Vermont and American traditions; it was a crash course in New England cultural history.

This retail institution is also known for its year-round Christmas shop. There you’ll come across traditional European Christmas fare like marzipan candy and Stollen bread, vintage decorations (glass ornaments, bubble lights, a plastic Santa Claus made from the original 1950s mold), and of course a wide variety of Vermont-made goods.

So whether it’s Christmas or Christmas in July, stop by the Vermont Country Store if you ever find yourself in Weston or Rockingham. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy a stroll through the past.

Photo source: Vermont Country Store

Photo source: Vermont Country Store

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 2): The Nova Scotia Tree

On December 6, 1917, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French ship laden with ammunition, collided with another vessel in the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Mont-Blanc caught fire and its ammunitions exploded, causing devastating damage to the city. Estimates indicate that between 1,700-2,000 people were killed by collapsed buildings, flying debris, and other after-effects of the explosion. More than 9,000 were injured. Some sources claim the explosion was the largest man-made blast before the invention of nuclear weapons. The explosion was so large that it created a tsunami that wiped out all the inhabitants of a First Nations settlement on the other side of the harbor. 

Relief came from around Canada and American cities like Chicago, but Boston made particularly generous contributions. When Bostonians learned of the disaster, they organized a relief train that included medical personnel and supplies. The train reached Halifax on December 8 (it was delayed one day due to a snowstorm).

To show their appreciation (and highlight tourism and trade opportunities), Nova Scotia Christmas tree farmers sent Boston a tree for the holidays in 1918. This idea was revived in 1971, and since then the government of Nova Scotia has sent an official Christmas tree to Boston every year. They even have guidelines to ensure the quality of the tree (it must be a white or blue spruce of a certain height and density).

Each year, the city of Boston holds a ceremony to light the tree, and it stands on Boston Common throughout the season.  

Read about the 2014 tree.
Read more about the Halifax Explosion.

Nova Scotia tree for Boston

Photo: CBC

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 1): Joe Froggers

Here is the first in my 12 Days of Christmas series with New England traditions as the theme (it’s actually 11 days of Christmas at this point, but let’s pretend otherwise).

I’d like to start with everyone’s favorite Christmas food: the cookie!

The popular holiday molasses-spice cookie known as “Joe Froggers” is a deliciously chewy treat that goes back to the eighteenth century. A free (formerly enslaved) African American and Revolutionary War veteran by the name of Joseph Brown ran a tavern with his wife Lucretia in Marblehead, Mass. Lucretia made these delectable, pancake-sized treats and served them up to guests who christened them “Joe Froggers” after the frog pond located next to the tavern. Variations of the story claim that the “frogger” name came from the frog-leg shapes the cookie batter made while cooking in the pan. Fittingly, given the gingerbread-like flavor of this cookie, the Browns lived in an area of Marblehead known as Gingerbread Hill.

Joseph was born a slave, and he was called “Old Black Joe” by many whites in town, a breathtakingly casual racist appellation that was common in those times. He became a free man who could own property (thanks in part to the Massachusetts Constitution) after the war. The tavern he and Lucretia ran was integrated, but it was one of the few places in Marblehead, with a population that was only 5% African American, that could be described as such. While much of his history (which regiment he fought in, for example) has been lost, Joseph Brown’s name has been associated with the popular cookies although they were actually created by his wife.

The rum, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves in Joe Froggers are ingredients you find in many old-fashioned New England recipes, so this cookie is definitely a paean to the past. And with its ginger and allspice, it’s a perfect treat for the holidays (some modern sweet tooths add frosting, but in my opinion, this cookie is better without it) and remains popular in New England homes and bakeries.

Check out the recipe here.

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Flag of New England

Today I spotted a flag I don’t see very often, even here in New England (although they are plentiful at Revolution games). Its scarcity is ironic given it’s the Flag of New England (one of many variations). Back in colonial times, and later during the American Revolution, there were a wide range of flags used by local communities, government entities, militia companies, etc. A flag similar to this one but with a blue background was reportedly raised by those American rebels at Bunker Hill.

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Rainy Walk on the Freedom Trail

Took a little time today to play tourist in my hometown.

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Site where the infamous Boston Massacre took place.

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The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (it really should be the 54th Memorial…)

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The Old State House.
Here they read a copy of the Declaration of Independence after it arrived from Philadelphia (July 18, 1776). Locals tore down the lion and unicorn (symbols of British monarchy) that same day; they weren’t replaced on the facade until 1882.

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The beautiful U.S.S. Constitution, known for her role in the War of 1812.

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One of the windows at the Paul Revere House.

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Memorial Day Weekend

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The annual Boston Common Garden of Flags display. The flags represent every service member from Massachusetts who lost their life in every conflict from the Civil War to up today. There are 33,000 flags. My thoughts are with these veterans and their families, who have sacrificed so much.

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Carrie Would Not Be Pleased

Carrie Would Not Be Pleased

Beacon Hill will soon be welcoming Carrie Nation, a new restaurant that will feature, among other offerings, libations and “hatchetations.”

Carrie N is rolling in her grave.

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