Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tales from the Winter Street Cemetery

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, October 24, 2014.

Exeter has dozens of small family graveyards scattered throughout town. Usually found in a corner of land long owned by a particular family, these burials can be hard to find. Records for small graveyards can be found at the Exeter Historical Society. There are no marked graves for the people who died in town in the 1600s – a hard truth for genealogists looking for their ancestors’ final resting places.

The earliest mention we have of any burial ground is in the town records from 1651. “It is granted to Mr. Dudley liberty to fence in that piece of ground where the graves are and to have the use of the land for grazing and feeding of cattle whilst he stayes in Exeter.” Reverend Samuel Dudley was the minister and the graves mentioned were most likely those surrounding the meeting house, which was near Salem Street. There is no longer any trace of the grave yard in this part of town. If there were gravestones, and none have been found, they were probably not the inscribed and decorated type we are familiar with today.

The second burial ground is located on the corner of Water and Green streets. Sometimes called ‘Gas House Cemetery,’ because a gas manufacturing plant once stood nearby, this is more of a family cemetery and there are only a handful of graves still there. A third early burial ground was located in the church yard of the Congregational Church on Front Street. In the early 1800s many of the graves were leveled to widen Front Street. Attempts to locate the stones in the 1930s found some of them and they were moved back to the church yard.

In 1742, the town received the land for the Winter Street Cemetery after the death of Colonel John Gilman. Gilman’s will donated, “forever for a burying place parte of that triangular piece of land in the common field aforesd that lyes near that which was lately the dwelling house of Samuel Sibley late of Exeter aforesd between the Road that leads from the Meeting house & that from the lanes end in Exeter aforesd to Kingston provided Sd town fence the Same within three years after my decease.” The town kept its part of the bargain and fenced the area. The triangular lot was truncated as Gilman left the three points of the triangle to each of his sons. Today, the points are not so obvious, one is built up with houses and shops, another holds the old town pound and a naval gun and the third has become a public playground (which includes a Barney-like bouncy ride – the reason many locals call the Winter Street Cemetery ‘Purple dinosaur cemetery’).

The cemetery served as the town’s public burial ground until the 1840s, when the Exeter Cemetery on Linden Street was created. There continued to be some burials in the Winter Street Cemetery in the decades that followed – mostly in family owned plots – and there were a few families that chose to have their ancestors disinterred and moved to the Exeter Cemetery. Still, if you are looking for the final resting place of Exeter’s Revolutionary War citizens, the Winter Street lot is the place to go. Strolling through a cemetery can reveal a lot of history and, providing you are careful, checking out the stones will tell you a lot about the people who lived here centuries ago.

In 1898, the Evening Gazette ran a story about the cemetery: “the old burying ground was surrounded by a two-board fence with two gates, one on Front Street for white people, and one at the back for colored people. The latter were all buried in the northeast corner of the yard. The bier house, so called, stood about where the Greeley house stands now, at the southeast corner. All the mourners, walked to the grave, and at short intervals, the bier was set down in order that the bearers might rest or be relieved by others.” There were not separate burial grounds in Exeter for white and black citizens, so everyone regardless of race or social class was interred in the same public cemetery. But the reticence to mingle unrestrained led to certain parts of the cemetery reserved for ‘colored’ citizens and paupers. Tobias Cutler, whose grave was recently found to be soiled with some type of tarry substance, was one of a number of black Revolutionary war veterans who settled in Exeter. His family went on to become businessmen in both Exeter and Hampton. Born into slavery, he was granted his freedom to serve in the Continental Army. Although his grave is located in the poorer section of the cemetery, he truly earned the right to be buried with the dozen or so other Revolutionary War soldiers in the Winter Street Cemetery. The presence of these men has led the Daughters of the American Revolution to adopt the cemetery and raise awareness of its importance.

Visiting the cemetery is to be encouraged. Walk among the stones and read the stories as you go by. Cemeteries shouldn’t be thought of as places of death or hauntings. They are the final chapter of everyone’s biography. In earlier times life was short. Children sometimes died tragically young. Husbands and wives called one another ‘beloved’. The art on the stones reflects beliefs about life after death and mortality was viewed with inevitability, sorrow or hope. But if you do visit, please take care. The Winter Street Cemetery is not seasonal entertainment. It is cherished by our town and is not a place for Halloween fun.

Photo: Gravestone in Exeter’s Winter Street Cemetery. The image carved is a ‘winged cherub’ – a softened view of the afterlife. Stones depicting a ‘flying death’s head’ with a skull in place of the cherub can also be found in the Winter Street Cemetery. The cemetery was in general use from 1742 until 1845.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Treasures in the Walls

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, October 10, 2014.

Back in the summer of 2011, a local couple was busily engaged in insulating their century old house on Cass Street. During the necessary demolition, they uncovered a surprise. Liz Morse then wrote to the Exeter Historical Society; “we found a poster nailed to a wall for a lecture by Thomas Nast in 1873. Would someone from the historical society like to come see it? We are considering framing it and returning it to its original location, but thought it might be of interest to you.”

She was right. It was of interest to us. Now before you decide to call us, please know that the Exeter Historical Society cannot simply play “Antiques Roadshow” with all callers. As a museum, we are not legally allowed to do monetary appraisals and, although we will occasionally purchase items at public auction for our collections, we generally only take donations.

That said, we love seeing the artifacts that people find hidden in their basements, attics and barns. And the Morses live along my usual walk home. The poster was magnificent, and warranted some further research about the house and the advertised lecture.

Although it doesn’t appear on the 1874 map of Exeter, the house on Cass Street most definitely existed in 1873 when the poster was nailed to the wall. We have a directory of Exeter published in 1872, which does not provide helpful information – like house numbers – but does give us the names and occupations of householders in town. For Cass Street, it lists more residents than the 1874 map can accommodate. Most likely, the map was laid out well before its publication date and by that time at least two new houses had been built on the street. The plot of land for the Morse’s house was purchased in 1868 by Oliver Lane, a local merchant. He never appears to have lived there and must have built it for rental income. There are four households from the 1872 directory that cannot be placed in any specific house when compared to census records or ownership deeds. Three are headed by skilled workmen; a stonemason, carpenter and shoemaker. The fourth is a mother and daughter who would later run a boarding house. Any of these people could have been the occupants of the house where the poster was found. And most likely, any of them would have been enthusiastic to attend the Thomas Nast program.

Thomas Nast was a popular illustrator and political cartoonist. Born in Germany in 1840, he’d arrived in New York with his mother and sister at the age of six. Although children usually pick up new languages quickly, Nast seems to have struggled and even as an adult still spoke with a heavy accent and found reading and writing very difficult. His wife helped him by correcting his poor spelling in the cartoons he created. Yet, or perhaps because of this, he was able to reach broad swaths of the American population including recent immigrants. He began work, at age 15, for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, as a sketch artist after talking his way into the job. As the Civil War began, Nast joined the staff of Harper’s Weekly, where he would work for roughly 25 years. After the war, he turned to political cartoons, using his talent and wits to attack the political corruption that was raging in New York. His depictions of the Tammany Hall political machine, depicted as a tiger, and his caricatures of William “Boss” Tweed , the corrupt and ruthless Democratic party enforcer, are credited with their fall from power. Nast would go on to popularize the political party symbols of the Democratic donkey and Republican elephant that we still use today. He is also credited with the creation of Christmas as we know it today, with his drawings of Santa Claus and his toy shop at the North Pole. 

In 1873, Thomas Nast was on a seven month speaking tour when he passed through Exeter. The ‘Exeter Lyceum’ program of lecture courses was thrilled to book him as a featured speaker. The review, published in the Exeter News-Letter the following week, raved; “Mr. Nast’s lecture was both entertaining and instructive, and his occasional foreign idioms and accent gave perhaps additional relish to the good things it contained. He commenced with a tribute to the fun-loving qualities of the American people, which he illustrated by choice examples; gave a short history of caricature, especially on its political side; and at length turned to what was of course most interesting to the audience, his own experience as a political caricaturist. From time to time he illustrated the subjects of his lecture, by drawing in colored chalks on a large easel in full view of the audience, some of those happy burlesques which have given him his world-wide reputation.”

Liz Morse reports that they did indeed frame the poster and it hangs near where it was originally found; “guests seem to find it interesting, and it gets us talking about our renovations (Ben loves that subject).”

Image: Poster found behind the wall in the house of Liz and Ben Morse on Cass Street. Advertisements, such as this one, were never meant to serve as documentary materials – they were considered disposable. Finding it intact provides us with a window into the interests of people in town in 1873. It has since been carefully preserved by the owners.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our New Exeter History Minute

Exeter's history frequently overlaps with the history of other places -- sometimes it's Portsmouth, sometimes it's Boston, and on occasion, it's even further away. In this history minute -- click here to watch -- Barbara picks up the story of Suzannah Holman Brown's daughter, Julia, and ties it to three famous Boston dishes. (Warning, watching this segment may leave your mouth watering!) This history minute is generously sponsored by Citizen's Bank.

To learn more about Exeter history -- or to support the Exeter Historical Society -- visit our website, www.exeterhistory.org. #ExeterHistoryMinute

Special thanks to the Omni-Parker House for providing the photos of Harvey Parker and the Parker House, to Tom Kohn for the photo of the Boston Cream Pie and to Yankee Magazine for the photo of the Parker House Rolls.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Exeter Town Hall Controversy, 1931

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, November 30, 2007.

Sometimes too much change too quickly can be downright threatening. Imagine if the town government identified a problem, say lack of downtown restrooms and insufficient town office space, and then proposed altering a cherished town edifice to provide these very things. This was the controversy facing Exeter in March of 1931.

It all started when Judge Ernest Templeton, son of the Exeter News-Letter editor, John Templeton, pointed out that the town needed a new police station, courtroom, and cells. At the annual town meeting in 1930, a committee was appointed to look into the problem and make some recommendations for the next meeting. The other sore point in town was the lack of public restrooms. Shopping in the downtown by necessity had to be done in short trips. Especially if one was traveling with small children. Local merchants were keen to make the downtown as inviting as possible.

The 1931 Warrant included a proposal that would solve all of these problems. The 1855 Town Hall building had a perfectly serviceable, but inaccessible basement that could be converted, quite inexpensively, to office space, the district court, holding cells and public restrooms. The renovations would require removing the embankment on the Water Street side of the building to create windows and an entryway, which would widen the street a bit and provide for a continuous sidewalk to the square and a few more parking spaces. It seemed like the perfect solution.

But when town meeting day dawned, considerable opposition had begun to swell. Perhaps it was a reaction to the numerous building projects already going on in the town, but changing the look of the Town Hall was just too much for many people to swallow. Ambrose Swasey had already had a number of old buildings moved or razed for his new parkway and Phillips Exeter Academy was in the midst of a building spree, erecting nine new buildings. It must have seemed that the whole of Exeter was changing in this new modern world. The rickety wooden structures of Water Street that seemed to stay upright only out of habit were rapidly disappearing. Opposition to the town hall renovations was fierce.

When the votes were tallied, Article 15 passed by a vote of 214 to 208. The six vote difference wasn’t enough for a very vocal number of citizens who petitioned the selectmen for a new meeting. A new warrant was posted, and another town meeting was scheduled for March 31st to vote to rescind the action taken on Article 15. In the meantime, the same group filed an injunction to prevent the selectmen from acting on the original vote until the second was taken, lest they try to stealthily install bathrooms during the intervening two weeks.

Handbills and letters flew in every direction. Those opposed were adamant that the building would be ruined architecturally. The beauty of the downtown would be destroyed. “The motive of the leadership in this movement appeared to be both rule and ruin,” commented John Templeton. Supporters countered, “It is a mere handful of sorehead politicians who have persuaded a certain class of our citizens to join them in this ‘rule or ruin’ move to overthrow the perfectly fair vote of March 10. The same class opposed the change from oxen to horses and from horses to automobiles, and always see calamity in progressive measures. We are sorry for them.”

Three times as many voters turned out for the special meeting as had voted originally. Although they tried to paint it as a small number of people in opposition, the vote was again very close – 891 in favor of renovations and 825 opposed. Remodeling went ahead but the defeat was painful. Months later, John Templeton was still grieving. “We know that many well meaning citizens supported this project, but in view of the fact that it was entirely unnecessary, it seems incredible that a majority of Exeter’s citizens should trample on the sentiment of their neighbors and needlessly embitter public feeling. It is not like Exeter. That this spirit is today in the ascendancy is Exeter’s shame.” Had the vote gone the other way, no doubt the wound would have been as deep.

Exeter's New Historic Marker

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, September 26, 2014.

Wondering about the mysterious sign in front of the town hall? The sign – to be unveiled on Saturday, October 4th – commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Exeter in 1860. Back in 2010 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of his visit and speech with all manner of public events. The permanent sign will recognize our town's connection to Abraham Lincoln to a wider audience.

Historic highway markers are nominated through the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources. Exeter already has four such markers. If you’re interested in finding them all, start on outer Water Street where you’ll find a marker dedicated to Brigadier General Enoch Poor. Poor was a shipbuilder who served during the American Revolution. The Ladd-Gilman house, which is now the home of the American Independence Museum, bears a marker to remind us of its role as the state treasury. A marker dedicated to Exeter’s tenure as the state capital stands in front of the town offices and just up Front Street on the corner of Court Street another sign marks the spot where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the first time to citizens of New Hampshire.

Lincoln wasn’t a presidential candidate when he visited Exeter in the winter of 1860. His son, Robert, was attending Phillips Exeter Academy after spectacularly failing his Harvard entrance examinations. When Lincoln was hired to make a speech at the Cooper Union in New York in late February, he readily accepted and extended his trip to have enough time to slip up to New Hampshire to visit Robert. Lincoln had other ties to Exeter – he had befriended fellow congressman Amos Tuck during his time in the United States Congress in 1847. Tuck is widely credited with the creation of the Republican Party based on his objection to the spread of slavery into the western territories – a view he and Lincoln held in common. The Tuck family’s presence in Exeter most likely helped the decision to send Robert to Phillips Exeter Academy for a year of intense study. Upon Lincoln's arrival to town on February 29th, he was immediately asked to make speeches throughout the state and he found himself on a whirlwind tour of Concord, Manchester and Dover during his short stay in New Hampshire. Exeter was the site of the fourth speech he made in the state.

So what of it? Lincoln made speeches all the time. What’s one more? Lincoln’s northeastern trip that year introduced him to a skeptical audience. There were several candidates from the region likely to run for the presidency that year, but Lincoln’s debates about slavery against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Senate had been carefully followed by many folks in the east. Slavery had nearly disappeared in the northern states and most thought ‘good riddance.’ It could stay where it was in the south, but when the western territories began to petition for statehood, decisions about the spread of slavery had to be made. Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, which he paraphrased for the New England audiences, laid out his careful reasoning in opposing the extension of slavery. It also hinted that, perhaps, the system itself, although constitutionally acceptable, was a cancer on the nation. It was in New Hampshire that Lincoln first used the powerful metaphor of slavery as a snake in the bed to awaken the population’s sleepy complacency.

Of the four sites where Lincoln spoke in New Hampshire the Exeter town hall is the last one still standing. Concord lost Phenix Hall to a fire in 1893. Manchester’s Smyth Hall was torn down in 1970 and the Dover City Hall burned in 1866. Last year’s fire at the Exeter town hall, small though it was, was a reminder that these old buildings must be cherished.

The Exeter Historical Society was pleased when a local donor contacted us willing to assist with a petition to have the Exeter town hall recognized as a New Hampshire historic landmark. Please join us during the Exeter Fall Festival on October 4th at 12:30 on the steps of the town hall when we will be joined by Phillips Exeter Academy principal Tom Hassan and, perhaps, Abraham Lincoln himself, to unveil our new historic marker.

Image: Exeter Town Hall as it appeared to Abraham Lincoln during his visit in 1860.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Did we Mention that the Red Sox are playing the NYC Yankees?

Yes, you could win an iPad Mini, but did we forget to mention that the Red Sox tickets that you could win are for the September 27th game against the NYC Yankees? And that it is one of Derek Jeter's last games as a Yankee? No baseball fan should miss the chance to win tickets to this game and you could be in luck because the Exeter Historical Society is raffling off two tickets to this historic game. Raffle tickets are $10 each (or 3 for $25) and can be purchased online through the historical society's website, click here. The winning tickets will be drawn on Saturday, September 20 during the Society's annual bowling event. You need not be present to win (though we'd love it if you'd join us).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fred Frame

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, September 12, 2014.

Race car driver Fred Frame always said he was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. When I happened upon a file about Frame in the Exeter Historical Society archives, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about the man. Frame raced to fame when he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1932, yet there’s little acknowledgement of that achievement in his native town. So, was Frame from Exeter? Or, was that something he simply made up?

Frame is mostly associated with Pasadena, California – where he seems to have spent most of his life. The Exeter Frame family ties him to Charles E. Frame, who, it is said, served as his ‘foster father’ and was a well-known and respected cabinet and furniture maker. Perhaps, but no documentation connects the two as ever living together. The facts about Fred Frame’s early life turn out to be quite complicated. Fred himself filed only two documents that can be traced: his 1917 draft registration form and his 1915 marriage certificate. On both, he lists his date of birth as June 3, 1894, however, there is no such birth record in Exeter. This doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t born in Exeter. Babies were born at home in that time and sometimes they missed being noted in the town’s vital records.

On his draft record, he lists his name as Fred William Frame, born in Exeter, New Hampshire and currently working as a chauffeur for the very wealthy Charles F. Paxton in Pasadena. He was slightly more specific about his origins two years earlier when he reported, on his marriage license, that his parents were ‘C.J. Frame’ and ‘Issabella McClish.’ C. James Frame lived in Exeter in the 1880s and can be found on the 1910 census living with his wife Isabelle and step-son Frederick in Pasadena. So C.James Frame was not Fred’s biological father. That honor goes to Frank Colbath, who was Isabella McClish’s first husband. Colbath died in 1904 at the County Farm after a lengthy bout of tuberculosis. Isabella Colbath and her son, Fred Colbath are in Exeter at the time of the 1900 census. Her elder son, Benjamin, was living with his grandparents in 1900. It was probably difficult for her to make ends meet as a dressmaker without the support of her husband. Sometime after the death of Frank Colbath, Isabella married C.James Frame and moved with him and young Fred to California. Fred must have liked the arrangement because he took his step-father’s surname and used it for the rest of his life.

By most accounts, Fred was not much interested in school but was quite taken with cars. He chauffeured for a few years before taking up racing as a profession. His first Indy 500 was in 1927 when he placed 11th. The Indianapolis 500 was quite a different race in its early days. The event premiered in 1911 with the same 500 mile 200 lap race we have today, but the speedway was paved with brick, drivers had a passenger called a ‘ride-along mechanic’ and the cars looked like they belonged in a pinewood derby. But you won’t need a description, because the Indianapolis Speedway in 1932 has been immortalized in the Warner Brothers film The Crowd Roars. And, like a ghost from the past, Fred Frame appears in the film playing himself. Released in April of that year, Frame went on to win the Indy 500 on May 30th. He only gets a few lines in the film, but he delivers them well as he towers over Joe Greer, played by James Cagney. It’s not often that someone from our archives can be seen walking, talking and breathing, so it is quite a thrill watching him. The film can be rented and streamed over the internet through a well-known site that inexplicably has the name of a famous South American river.

The 1932 Indy 500 broke speed records that had been set seven years earlier by Peter DePaolo, averaging 104.44 mph (for comparison, the 2014 Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay averaged 186.563mph). Although Frame placed well in the years that followed, at 38 he was old for a driver. His son, Bob, became the racer in the family after Fred left the track in 1939 after a particularly bad accident. Bob was later killed in a race in Owatonna, Minnesota in 1947.

Frame died of a heart attack at his home in Hayward California in 1962. There was no obituary published in his home town of Exeter, New Hampshire. According to the Nancy Carnegie Merrill index of the Exeter News-Letter, the only time Fred Frame was ever mentioned in the newspaper was in 1941 when a relative, Joseph LaFramboise entered the New Hampshire Soap Box Derby. Fifteen-year-old Joe gets three columns including, “related to Freddie Frame, one-time winner of the 500-mile Indianapolis speed classic, LaFramboise finished second in the entire field in 1939, and last year reached the semi-finals before being eliminated.” Thanks. Nice that he got a mention. Fred Frame should be considered one of our home town heroes. Pass the word around.

Image: Exeter native, Fred Frame (on right), winner of the 1932 Indianapolis 500.