Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mayflower Pilgrims

Four hundred years ago, religious pilgrims left England for a journey that landed on the shores of what is now Massachusetts.  I have a handful of books on the Pilgrims from the Mayflower.

1. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 to 1647 William Bradford edited by SE Morrison (1952). 
Considered the most authoritative account about Plymouth and written by the settlement's governor and driving spiritual force, William Bradford. Bradford tells the story of the Pilgrims' first stop in Holland, their harrowing transatlantic crossing, the first harsh winter in the new land, and the help from Native Americans that saved their lives. The text was lost for a couple of centuries when it was rediscovered and published in the U.S. shortly before the Civil War. Its discovery and return can be credited with Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving. Editor and eminent historian, Samuel Elliot Morrison described the return to the U.S. as a "literary sensation." Found in a used bookstore but can't remember which one. Paid $3.

2.  The Plymouth Adventure the Chronicle Novel of the Voyage of the Mayflower, Ernest Gebler 1950.  A best-seller in 1950, it faithfully follows the story of the Pilgrims in the form of a historical novel. Second hand bookstore purchase and can't remember where.

3.  Winthrop ‘s journal history of New England 1630 to 1649 edited by James Kendall Hosmer, 1908, 2 Vols.  Following  the Pilgrim's, Winthrop led a second wave of colonizers from England in 1630 and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years. His writings and vision for a Puritan "city upon a hill" were the foundation for New England thinking. Christmas gift from my mother. Used with a numbered bookplate inside showing the former owner, Harold A. Ritz.

4. Mayflower Nathaniel Philbrick, 2006. Philbrick writes an accessible history of the Pilgrims, giving a contemporary account to look behind the myths that have grown up.  Bought in a used bookstore and can't remember where.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Books as Family - Part II: Books as Family Artifacts.

With the little mars of ownership and inscriptions, books can be transformed into something more than their content. They can symbolize a moment in time for the family member and the book. Here are a few examples from my library: 

1. A Wonder-Book Tanglewood Tails and Grandfathers Chair by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1883).   The inscription in this book marks a moment in time for my grandmother then Dorothy Haynes, who received it as a Christmas gift in 1907 from her aunt Loucella. My grandmother would have been 12 years old at the time living in Sandusky, Ohio at the Ohio veterans home where her father was the chief surgeon. I try to imagine her Christmas morning where she opens the book around a Christmas tree with her for brothers and parents. This was part of a Riverside set of books that was popular at the time one of 13 volumes of Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s work. 

2.  Napoleon,  Emil Ludwig 1926. The inscription on this book shows it it was given to my grandfather John Whitworth from “mother and father" on his 33rd birthday. He would’ve been working as the treasurer at the American Crayon Company at the time. Even though the inscription says it’s from mother and father his father had passed away 20 years earlier. With a gift, I wonder if his mother knew he was interested in Napoleon or took a chance and thought he might like it.

3.  How to Win friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936. One of the best selling books of all time this would’ve been in my grandfathers library. The reason I noted it that my mother, who would have been about three at the time, scribbled inside the front cover. I’m wondering what my grandfather would’ve thought when he found those scribbles perhaps he secretly treasured them as a sign of his daughters future creativity. 


3. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, James George Frazer (1951). This was a book from my mother's college days at Wooster College when she was intending to major in Anthropology. Inside on the free end paper is a custom-made book plate with her maiden name and a black and white wood carving of the family home at 621 Wayne St. in Sandusky, Ohio. This is a seminal work on the study of religion and myth and I try to imagine her reading this in the college library.


4. The Opposing Self, Lionel Trilling 1959. This is a book of essays in criticism about the romantic image of the self in literature. The book reflected a change in my mothers intellectual interest after she transferred from Wooster to Michigan State and changed her major to English literature. She had graduated and married my father. What makes this book an interesting artifact is the moment in time where she used it to make a list of things to do in her day. One was to call a hairstylist Mrs. Call and the other was to return a maternity booklet to someone named Catherine. This would have been soon after my mother had given birth to my older sister Ann.


5. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Ludwig Von Mises (1966). This was one of my fathers books and marked with a pre-printed address label on the free end paper. This is not a light read but an 883-page treatise by a an Austrian economist. I’m trying to imagine my father having a deep intellectual life with an economic book when I was five years old and my sister was seven while he was working as a salesman for metals foundery in Sandusky Ohio. One small coincidence with this book is that in his 80s, he pointed out the book on his shelf and told me that he kept a small stash of cash maybe $300 in its pages and that I should remember that if something ever happened to him. When he died and I was packing up his apartment, I remembered to look for the cash before putting in the packing box. There was a comforting coincidence about the idea of finding hidden money in a treatise on economics. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020


I’ve been lucky to inherit a handful of books that have come down through the generations on my mother’s side of the family. I think of these books as extensions of family members I never knew but can still understand their thoughts and interests. I try to imagine the life of the ancestor with the book. One day, the book was deliberately selected, or given as a gift, and then read by its owner. Their owners died and the books were taken down from shelves packed up and taken to a new home where they may have been read by the descendant of the owner. They are particularly special because they show the owners added their name to the book.

This is to share what I have in two parts: books of the times and books as artifacts of a life.

Part One: Spiritualism at the End of the 19th Century

Spiritualism flourished in England and America in the 1840s to the 1920s. By the end of the 1800s, spiritualism was said to have more than eight million followers mostly from the middle and upper classes. Three different families on my mother side were all interested in the spiritual. Here are their surviving books from that time:



1. Visions of the Beyond, by a Seer of To-day; Symbolic Teachings from the Higher Life, edited by Herman Snow (1888). This book was owned by my third great uncle, John Cowdery who was one of the founders of the American crayon company in Sandusky, Ohio. The editor of this book, Mr. Herman Snow, says that he transcribed the happenings of various seances  conducted by a "mediumistic", Mrs. Anna D. Loucks. The book is stamped on the inside page as belonging to “J.S. Cowdery Sandusky, O.”


2.  Mysteries Unveiled: The Hoary Past Comes Forward with Astonishing Messages for the Prophetic Future, William a Reading (1896). The book was owned by my great grandfather, John Whitworth, with his last name penciled in the inside page. It is filled with many diagrams and etchings from early biblical times including pictures of the ark of the covenant and diagrams of the great pyramid of Egypt. I don’t know the significance of “No. 9” is but it was symbolic in the Bible as being a symbol of finality. 

3.  This Mystical Life of Ours, Ralph Waldo Trine (1907). This book was owned by my great aunt, daughter of John Whitworth, with her name was Mary Curtis Whitworth stamped on the inside cover. Trine organizes the book in 52 lessons, one for each week of the year, intended to guide readers through the power of the “ infinite” with lessons like The Law of Attraction and The Law of Prosperity. The book also has a book mark from the book seller in Sandusky, Ohio, telephone 5636.

Next installment: Books as artifacts.