by Diane Mitton
The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
weekly news release.
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7/20/06 Collectors and Characters
That people are born collectors is evidenced by the artifacts and archival items held at the Thompson-Ames Historical Society in Gilford. It seems as if many of us can’t resist the urge to collect, some selectively, others to save anything and everything that passes into our hands. Some of the most interesting and revealing “collections” belong to this latter group. Their possessions often make an excellent statement about a person, a family, a time period or a place. Attics (remember those wonderful and intriguing places that occupied the upper reaches of our homes before the advent of cathedral ceilings), cellars, sheds, even yards became a repository for their collections. Those who select collectively do so for various reasons. They may be following a great interest, or perhaps they inherited their auntie’s button collection, or are frustrated engineers or big little boys collecting trains. Some people even collect obituaries. Benjamin Mooney , from 1834 to 1850 collected in a little notebook the death records of his relatives and neighbors. Interestingly, he seldom recorded women by their given names It was Aunt Mooney, James Picken’s wife, or Phillip Blaisdell’s mother.
For years people have been collecting autographs. One of my favorite items in T-AHS’s collection is the autograph book of Martha S. Bayer in which she receives in the beautiful script and sentimental language of the 1830s and 40s the good wishes and advice of her family and friends. Tucked into her memory book is a small handmade card which folds into an octagonal shape and is addressed to Joseph S. Thing. Inside is a faded pink and cream woven heart and the verse. “In all that memory loves to treasure, thy form I see. In every little grief or pleasure, I think of thee.” It is signed M.S.B. The last entry seems to indicate that Martha and Joseph married for a brash young man wrote, “These two chaps live fine together and never shall they part ‘till time shall snap those bands in twain which bound them hand and heart. Martha & Jo are right good fellows, deny it if you can, for Jo is every whit a man and she’s a fine rate woman.” In Charles Orrin Copp’s friendship book, Burt Weeks, in 1877 wishes him the following: “Sailing down the stream on life in your little bark canoe, may you have a pleasant trip with just room enough for two”.
It seems as though we have always saved mementos, clippings, odd little bits of information, poetry, photographs, cards, etc. and how fortunate for history that this has been the case. In earlier times we pasted our treasures into oversized, rather unattractive scrapbooks. Today, “scrapbooking” has evolved into an art form utilizing beautiful papers, sayings, stickers, decorative frames, explosive colors and shapes, almost overshadowing that which is being saved. And one wonders which is more important, the item being saved or the way in which it is presented. Will future viewers see these collections as a statement of out times? Of course, they will, even as we see beautiful script and sentimental language as a statement of earlier times- today’s fad is history in the making.
Even as we have always had collectors, so we have always had our town “characters”. The dictionary defines a character as “one with peculiar qualities impressed by nature or habit which distinguish one person from another” So, a town character is neither a “bad” character nor a “good” character, just one who differs in some way from all the other characters in town. Waldo H. Jones was both a collector and a character. Born in Mass about 1841, he was a self-described “old bachelor”, who lived with his father and brother, all of whom were at one time or another clothiers. Waldo ran Jones’ Clothing House in the 1870s and 80s in Depot Square, Lake Village when it was a part of Gilford and which he called the “Nerve Center of the Universe”. He had apparently, three all-consuming interests – his store, the Masons and writing. He was given to flamboyant advertising…”the Sun amazed at Jones’ great stock of Overcoats, the Moon astounded at Jones’ great stock of Ready Made Clothing, the Planets aghast at Jones’ immense stock of Underware and Furnishing Goods…” and “Advise to the Public. You had better buy your goods at the great, huge, mammoth, stupendous, gigantic, elephantine, behemothic LAKE VILLAGE CLOTHING HOUSE, where you can get an allopathic dose of goods for a homeopathic dose of cash”. He wrote long, tongue-in-cheek poems and articles about the Masons and was the author of a newspaper column called the Bric-a- Brac. It was apparently, his intent to poke a little fun at everything and not to take anything too seriously. That he was both a character and a collector we know for he saved his writings and pasted them in a ledger. Historical societies are created by avid collectors of the collections of others – thereby making it possible for you and I to pass an entertaining hour or so reading this interesting and often humorous scrapbook.
T-AHS is open to the public for the viewing, reading and researching of all of our collections. You are invited to visit our three museum buildings – the Mt. Belknap Grange, the Union Meetinghouse and the Benjamin Rowe House – all on Belknap Mt. Road in Gilford Village. Please call 527-9009 for information.