Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plupy's Thanksgiving

Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, we thought we'd share this chapter about the holiday in Exeter from Henry A. Shute's Plupy: "The Real Boy".


It was a custom in those days which I am glad to say is practically obsolete to-day, at least in Exeter, for the children of the lower classes to spend the early hours of the night before Thanksgiving in going about the town begging for Thanksgiving supplies. The housewife of the well-to-do class would be called to the door and would find there a boy or girl who would greet her with the time honored request, “please gimme suthin’ for Thanksgiving’.” Sometimes a few kindly questions would elicit sufficient information to convince the good woman that it would be a real charity to case a little bread on the waters, and the ordinary result was that the small beggar went away well laden with goodies. Again a severe cross-examination would frequently end in the headlong flight of the mendicant and his shrill yells of derision when at a safe distance.

This custom was regarded rather tolerantly by the good people of Exeter, and was not looked upon strictly as begging by those who regularly indulged in it, but rather as a fascinating game of chance. Indeed it was by no means an uncommon thing for children of the better classes to yield to its fascinations and, evading the vigilance of their maternal guardians, to solicit alms with a persistence that in any good cause would have been most praiseworthy, and a fertility of prevarication that was appalling.

With these shining examples in mind it was not surprising that our young friends became interested in any project affording the alluring alternative of excitement and probable gain. And so one rainy afternoon when they gathered in Fatty’s barn and had exhausted the possibilities of “rassling,” “knocking off hats,” “punching,” and that most delightful pastime known as “pilin’ on,” in which when one of two wrestler was squarely thrown and was recumbent under the body of the victor, any boy present could by throwing himself on the bodies of the fallen and yelling, “pile on, pile on,” at once produce a confused mound on squirming, shouting, struggling boys, whose combined weight crushed the unfortunate victim almost flat, that the conversation turned to the delightful subject of Thanksgiving dainties.

“Do you know what Fatty Melcher did last year?” continued Beany. “He and Pewt went begging and they dressed up in old clothes and they got a lot of cookies and a whole mince pie and a half of a squash pie and a big turnover and they went down back of Fatty’s father’s shop and et it all.”

“Gosh,” again exclaimed the boys as the same idea struck them simultraneously, “less we fellers go.”

“What if they ketch us?” demanded Plupy anxiously.

“Twont do any hurt,” said Bug, “everybody expects somebody round begging night before Thanksgiving, and they don’t care much who it is.”

“My father would lam the stuffing out of us fellers if he should find it out,” said Whack.

“Fatty can’t,” said Beany, “because everybody wouldn’t know him.”

“I won’t do it,” said Billy Swett with decision.

“Then ‘twill have to be Pewt or Beany or Plupy.”

“I won’t unless Pewt does too,” announced Beany decidedly.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Fatty. “Pewt and Beany and Plupy can go Wednesday night. Thanksgiving comes Thursday and we will meet here Wednesday night and eat what they get.”

“Aw now,” scoffed Beany. “I guess you fellers think you are pretty smart to get us to take the risk and do the work and then help us eat it up. I guess not much, Fatty.”

“Oh come now,” said Whack. “What is the use of your being so mean about it? They will know Fatty every time, he is so fat, and they will know he don’t need nothin’. If my father hadn’t said he would lick us if he ever heard of our going out begging we would do it. Your father hasn’t never said he would lick you for it Plupy, has he? Or yours neither Pewt, or yours, Beany.”

The boys addressed admitted that no such injunction had been laid on them, but sagely opined that paternal relations might be a trifle strained in the event of their detection, whereupon the other boys loudly reassured them.

“Course your father wouldn’t be mean enough to lick you when they hadn’t never told you not to do it,” asserted Pile Wood. “I tell you, Whack,” said Fatty, in audible tones aside to that gentleman. “It takes a pile of pluck to do it. Plupy and Beany and Pewt is jest the fellers to do it.”

“Aw come on now, Plupy,” said Bug, “jest think what fun it will be. You can lie so good too,” he continued.

“Huh,” said Plupy, plainly pleased at the flattering words. “I can’t lie so good as Pewt. He can lie jest bully, and Beany can too.”

And so after much urging and specious flattery, the three worthies, Plupy, Beany and Pewt were persuaded to undertake the task, upon the other boys’ promise to go with them and hang round in the neighborhood of the houses they were to favor with their patronage. This latter arrangement was a suggestion of Fatty’s, who evidently distrusted the generosity of the three in an impartial division of the spoil.

The agreement so pleased that luxurious youth that in order to show his appreciation of their noble conduct, he tip-towed into the kitchen and in the absence of the cook successfully raided the pantry and brought away a squash pie and about a peck of doughnuts stuffed into his pockets, which he distributed with the utmost impartiality.

The next Wednesday evening just after supper the boys met as per agreement at Fatty’s barn and arranged for a plan of the campaign. It was deemed advisable that the initial demand should be made at the house of one William Morrill, a most worthy and kindhearted citizen, whose only failing was a belief that every man, and in fact every boy, was as honest as he.

Straws were drawn for first chance and Plupy, always unlucky in games of chance, drew the shortest straw, and in high spirits the boys shinned over the fence and out through Elm to Court street, where the old gentleman lived with his sister, old Mother Moulton, the best natured, talkative old soul in the town.

Plupy, urged on by his friends, approached the door with much diffidence, and in answer to his timid knock the door opened and disclosed the ample figure and wrinkled face of the old lady, peering at him through her iron rimmed spectacles.

“Please gimme suthin’ fer Thanksgiving?” stammered Plupy, pulling his hat down over his eyes, while a row of heads peered over the board fence of the school house yard, awaiting with much anxiety the result of negotiations.

“Why, bless your soul, you poor little boy. Come in, come right in,” said the kind old lady, vigorously hooking the dismayed Plupy, who tried to escape, into the room.

“Now, my poor boy, tell me all about it,” she continued, “and take off your hat, it isn’t polite to keep your hat on in the house, didn’t you know that?”

Thus urged, the desperate Plupy shamefacedly removed his hat, and as he was perfectly well known to the old lady, she instantly recognized him.

“Sakes alive, Harry Shute, if it ain’t you. What in the world are you up to such doin’s as this for?” she demanded sternly.

Now if Plupy had told her frankly she would have laughed and let him go, but abashed at his position and somewhat terrified at her sternness, he unfortunately tried to lie out of it.

“We ain’t goin’ to have any Thanksgiving at our house,” he said sadly. “We ain’t goin’ to have no turkey, nor mince pie, nor nothin’.”

“For massy sakes, child, what is the matter? Is anyone sick,” snapped the old lady, on fire with philanthropic zeal.

“No marm,” said Plupy, with a sigh, “nobody is sick, but father has lost his place in the Custom House, and we can’t afford any turkey.”

“What, George Shute lost his place, and with a wife and seven children to support! I don’t wonder you feel pretty bad about it. Does your mother know you are begging?”

“No marm, she wouldn’t like it, but I thought if I could get a nice chicken or a nice mince pie, I could leave it in the pantry, and perhaps she might think she had made it.”

“Well, Harry Shute, I allus did think you was no-account sort of boy, but you have got a kind heart, a kind heart,” quavered the old lady, wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron. “I’m going right straight down to your house and see your poor dear mother,” she continued, greatly to Plupy’s discomfiture, who knew that interesting developments would result from her visit.

“I don’t believe mother could see you to-night for she went to bed with a awful headache,” said Plupy, lying desperately and shamelessly.

“Well, well, well,” said the old lady, “they are going to have an awful hard time now. Hum, hum,” she continued as she packed two mince pies nearly in paper, and filled a paper bag with cookies, and urged them upon the shrinking Plupy, as with many kind words of encouragement she led him out and closed the door behind him, and returning for her shawl and bonnet, made a hurried round of visits through the neighborhood, freely imparting the information that George Shute had lost his place in the Boston Common House, and what he would do to support a wife and seven children she for her part couldn’t imagine, and what was going to become of them all she didn’t for the life ‘o her know.

Upon his return to the boys, Plupy was greatly troubled over the magnitude of his lies, but the reassuring flattery of the boys and the appetizing smell of the provender soon put him at his ease.

Pewt having drawn the middle straw next applied at the house of George Smith on Elliott street. Unfortunately Pewt was of so ambitious a nature as to desire above all things to tell a bigger story than Plupy had, and as he was not recognized by Mrs. Smith he began to pour out a pitiful story of how his father and two sisters were down with the small pox, and was elaborating further and harrowing particulars, when he was told to leave or she would have him arrested, the door was slammed in his face with great violence, and a few minutes later a wild-eyed woman with a shawl over her head was acquainting the neighborhood that small pox of the most virulent type had broken out in town and they were all likely to take it before the week was over, and that everybody must take belladonna and fumigate their houses at once, and what would happen next she for her part didn’t know.

The boys were somewhat depressed at the barren results of Pewt’s first trial, but at the next place, Mr. John Kelley’s, having concocted an equally pitiful but less dangerous recital of a poor father dying with consumption, he so excited the kind hearted hostess that he came away with a whole roast chicken and an apple pie.

It was now Beany’s turn and at the first place he applied he invented a wholly original story. As he was not recognized, he took the opportunity of representing himself as the son of a beloved pastor of the Second Congregational Church, and to disarm suspicion, further informed her with engaging frankness that his father had not been paid any salary since May, and that they couldn’t have any Thanksgiving.

Now as this good woman was an ardent supporter of the First Church of the same denomination, and inasmuch as veiled but bitter rivalry had for years existed between the two churches, she lost no time after she had dismissed “the pastor’s little son” laden with good things, in putting on her shawl and acquainting the prominent members of the church that the pastor of the Second Church was actually in need of the necessities of life, that his salary hadn’t been paid for a year, and that for her part she should think that people who held their heads so high as the Second Church people had better pay their minister. That she always thought they were upstarts and that now she knew it.

Now while the boys, affluent in dainties, were hugely enjoying their feast in the rear of Fatty’s barn, the most sinister rumors were flying through the little town, to the effect that George Shute had lost his place in the Boston Custom House under very suspicious circumstances, that several cases of small pox had been discovered and that one or two deaths had already occurred; and of the extremely humiliating position in which the pastor of the Second Church was placed by the inability of the parish to meet the demands upon it.

Three such disquieting rumors were sufficient to stir the whole community to a boiling heat, and great was the amazement of Plupy’s father the next day at receiving many visits of condolence from his friends, all of whom had already sent in written applications for the supposedly vacant office.

And great was the annoyance of the pastor of the Second Church a most independent and high minded gentleman, at receiving many donations and offers of financial aid from members of the alien congregation.

But the feelings of the harassed and much abused slectmen after spending the early hours of the forenoon in trying vainly to locate the infected district, and to suitably fumigate and effectually quarantine the same, were beyond language vitriolic enough for adequate expression.

Indeed for a long time the source of the information was unknown, but the promised visit of good Mother Moulton gave the first clue to the elder Shute, who promptly acting on this clue elicited from the terrified Plupy sufficient information to implicate Pewt and Beany and they with their respective fathers were promptly summoned to a conference, at which the full nature of their atrocious doings were divulged.

It is doubtful if those three miscreants ever spent a more unhappy day. That they lost their Thanksgiving dinner, which they had for weeks looked forward to was bad enough, but to be obliged to spend the greater part of that day accompanied by irate parents, in making reiterated apologies and explanations to their victims and the friends to whom they had imparted the information gained, was bitterness itself, and the sound and deserved thrashings they each and everyone received formed the culminating tragedy of a sorrowful and memorable day.

And as the three fathers, weary but triumphant, separated after their energetic search for the truth, they repeated to each other the familiar and oft quoted words, “Did you ever see such cussed boys?”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Before Lincoln

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the November 26th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

We don’t know when Thanksgiving really got started in Exeter. Generations of Native Americans lived here long before written language began creating a reliable record. There were probably days set aside to acknowledge the bounty of the harvest, and these were most likely joyous.

Thanksgiving didn’t officially become a fixed holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln placed it on the fourth Thursday in November. Before that time, individual states got to decide when it would be observed. The basic traditions of Thanksgiving, like the food served, haven’t changed much over the years. Elizabeth Dow Leonard, when writing about her Exeter childhood in the early 1800s, recalled, “A Thanksgiving dinner of the olden time baffles description. It was anticipated for weeks, and preparations for it were on a scale of stupendous magnitude. Such choppings and poundings and apple parings and raisin stoning as were heard throughout the length and breadth of the land were never known on any other occasion. Such havoc among fowl and stalled oxen, such exhibitions of every kind of pastry that the soul of woman ever conceived!“

The feast was the task of women. Except for possibly applying a hatchet to the neck of the unfortunate turkey, the menfolk did what they did best in the kitchen – basically nothing. While the women were hard at it for a week in advance, their husbands and sons simply waited until the big day when, to their minds, food fell from the sky onto their plates. This probably explains why it was so difficult to find any accounts about the day in the early editions of the Exeter News-Letter. Aside from cookbooks and a few memoirs written by women, the preparations are wholly unregarded. Elizabeth Leonard dryly commented that after this, or any other feast, the men, “when they had taken a sufficient quantity of wine, paid us with some complimentary toast, spiced according to the number of glasses drunk.” Thanks, honey.

In earlier times, Thanksgiving Day was preceded by “begging night”. Henry Shute grew up in town in the 1860s. He remembered, “It was a custom in those days which I am glad to say is practically obsolete today, at least in Exeter, for the children of the lower classes to spend the early hours of the night before Thanksgiving in going about the town begging for Thanksgiving supplies. The housewife of the well-to-do class would be called to the door and would find there a boy or girl who would greet her with the time honored request, ‘please gimme suthin’ for Thanksgivin’.”

In Elizabeth Leonard’s day, the practice was heartily accepted, although she did describe it as “a carnival to the giver and the recipient.” It was viewed as an extension of the holiday and, “flour, sugar, fowls and money were freely given, and to the better class of the poor, pies and other luxuries were sent, so that when we sat down to our own abundant table, we felt we had contributed to help every poor person’s table in town who would accept our offerings. People who never asked charity at other times were not ashamed to ask and receive from the abundance of God’s Harvest at Thanksgiving.” Preparing for the onslaught of the petitioners could be quite a task. She recalled, “I have known my poor mother to make seventy pies to eat and give away!”

Fifty years later, begging night still persisted, although there was some cheating going on. Henry Shute commented, “This custom was regarded rather tolerantly by the good people of Exeter, and was not looked upon strictly as begging by those who regularly indulged in it, but rather as a fascinating game of chance. Indeed it was by no means an uncommon thing for children of the better classes to yield to its fascinations and, evading the vigilance of their maternal guardians, to solicit alms with a persistence that in any good cause would have been most praiseworthy, and a fertility of prevarication that was appalling.” If the tricksters were caught there were harsh penalties to pay. By the twentieth century, begging night was no longer part of the Thanksgiving tradition, having moved to Halloween.

Even our current frustration with Thanksgiving travel has a long history. In 1850, when Exeter was still new to the railroad age, the Exeter News-Letter noted, “The 3 o’clock train from New York, over the New York and New Haven Railroad on Wednesday, P.M. was made up of fifty-two cars. A moderate allowance of passengers for each car would give about 3,000 persons to this single train, nearly all of whom, doubtless, were going home to Thanksgiving.” If that doesn’t seem like a lot of people, keep in mind that in 1850 the population of the entire town of Exeter was about 3,000 people. Imagine cramming our whole town on a train nowadays.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Robert Luist Fowle: Exeter’s Tory Printer

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the November 12th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

By Barbara Rimkunas

In 1776, when most American colonists were considering independency, Exeter printer Robert Luist Fowle found himself in something of a quandary. The capital of New Hampshire had been moved from Portsmouth to Exeter, and there would be plenty of printing work for him. But he really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of breaking away from Great Britain. Whether this was common knowledge to the people of Exeter is unknown, but certainly it would cause problems if he didn’t keep his mouth shut.

Robert Luist Fowle had apprenticed with his uncle, Daniel Fowle, in Portsmouth. Daniel had been an able printer in Boston until he was arrested in 1754 for the publication of a pamphlet entitled The Monster of Monsters, which was critical of the government of Massachusetts. Daniel’s brother, Zachariah, had been the true engineer of the piece, but Daniel bore the brunt of punishment. Upon his release, he left for Portsmouth, fed up with the Massachusetts government and firmly dedicated to the idea of freedom of the press.

In Portsmouth, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed together, founding the first newspaper in New Hampshire, The New-Hampshire Gazette. But by 1775, the two men had a falling out concerning politics; Daniel firmly planted on the Patriot side and Robert leaning toward the British Loyalists. The schism caused the break-up of the printing firm. Robert took one of Daniel’s presses and set up shop in Exeter. There he began publishing his own newspaper, The New Hampshire Gazette or Exeter Morning Chronicle. With his political inclinations under cover, he was able to settle amongst the rebellious Exeter townsfolk with little notice.

Exeter was a smaller town than Portsmouth, and Robert Fowle found it necessary to take what work he could find, even though it might mean printing items that went against his own politics. New Hampshire declared itself independent of Britain in January of 1776 with the adoption of its new constitution. Exeter, as the new capital, was now a hotbed of the rebellion.

On July 16, 1776, Robert Luist Fowle printed a special edition of The New Hampshire Gazette, or Exeter Morning Chronicle, containing the full text of the newly approved Declaration of Independence. John Dunlap’s original Philadelphia printing of the document had recently arrived in town and Fowle had rushed getting it to press. He printed it within his newspaper and then as a separate broadside. One can only imagine what was going through his mind as he set the type. As a loyalist, or “Tory,” he would have been quite uncomfortable with the idea of revolution against Great Britain. Historians have estimated that 15 – 20% of the American colonists were loyalists, but in New England the numbers were much lower.

The only edition of Fowle’s New Hampshire Gazette or Exeter Morning Chronicle in the collections of the Exeter Historical Society was printed in August of 1776. In it, he prints an act passed by the Committee of Safety of New Hampshire to prevent the forging and altering of Bills of Public Credit – the paper money issued by the state. The publication of this act becomes ironic when, in early 1777, Fowle is arrested on suspicion of forging paper money.

The evidence against him was strong – there were no other printing presses in Exeter and Fowle had received the commission for printing paper money from the state. Thrown into Exeter’s notoriously permeable jail on Chestnut Street, Fowle offered to name the other conspirators if he were given bail. As the court was considering this offer, he slipped away and escaped behind British lines, most likely remembering the words he himself had set to type concerning the punishment for forgery: “every person so offending…shall be punished by being set on the gallows for the space of one hour, with a rope round the neck, and pay a fine for the use of this colony, not exceeding fifty pounds, and suffer six months imprisonment, and be publickly whipped, not exceeding thirty nine stripes, and be incapable of holding any office under the government of this colony, or shall suffer all or any of the foregoing punishments in the discretion of the court.”

Fowle’s brother, Zachariah, took over the Exeter press and continued, unmolested, throughout the war. Robert returned to town around 1790 after Zachariah’s death. He married his brother’s widow and became a merchant downtown. Although he received a loyalists’ pension from the British Crown, Fowle still felt the need to demand repayment for the pamphlets and paper he’d lost when his printing shop was looted. Eventually, he felt it best to move, with his wife, to Brentwood where she had inherited some land. It was there that he died in 1802, having lost his trade, but kept his principles.

Robert Luist Fowle’s printing press now stands in the museum room of the Exeter Historical Society. As an artifact of the American Revolution it is an odd accident of fate that it is a British press, used to print the Declaration of Independence by an American Tory. A rare copy of this broadside will be up for auction at the Skinner Auction House in Boston on November 14th.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Fine Undertaking

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the October 29th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

When Exeter’s large cemetery on Linden Street was created in 1843, it was designed to be park-like – a place one might stroll through on a warm afternoon. It was a far cry from the stark graveyards of earlier times. Funeral rites and furnishings had changed considerably since the town’s settlement in 1638 and the new cemetery reflected some of those changes.

When John Wheelwright and his small band of Puritan dissenters first arrived in Exeter, the necessary graveyard was located near the meetinghouse, somewhere in the vicinity of Salem Street. The grave markers of these earliest residents are gone now. Most likely, they weren’t marked well and when the new meetinghouse was built in the center of town, the graveyard was abandoned.

Not that it would have been a pleasant place to visit. Puritans considered one’s mortal remains to be relatively unimportant. Death brought with it a frightening uncertainty about a loved one’s eternal soul. No one knew whom God had elected to salvation or damnation and this terror of the grave was reflected on the carving that can still be viewed on older headstones. A quick walk through the Winter Street cemetery will reveal numerous examples of the “winged death’s head” – a cold reminder of man’s mortality – on the stones. The people buried are never “beloved” or “dear”; in fact, the men are never described at all, they’re just a name with dates attached. Women are nearly always attached in some way to a man. She’s a “widow of,” “wife of,” “consort of, “or even “relict of,” someone else. Rarely is she her own person, even in death.

Children- and there are a startling number of children buried in the Winter Street cemetery- are treated the same way as adults with the same type of headstone art. Children weren’t sheltered from death; it was all around them. When one of their playmates died, the children were part of the funeral rite and frequently carried the coffin of their friend to the graveyard. This was done to remind them of their own mortality. They didn’t fool around back then.

Over time, the harshness of the Puritan worldview began to melt. The flying skull softened into a winged cherub and later an urn and willow took the place at the top of headstones. By the time the Exeter Cemetery was laid out, there were no more harsh symbols to be found. Funeral practices and care of the dead began to change as well.

When James W. Field opened his undertaking business in Exeter in 1895, it had evolved into a specialized field. In previous decades, the dead were simply washed and laid in a crude homemade coffin in preparation for burial. In the United States, the Civil War changed this practice.

During prior wars, fallen soldiers were simply buried where they’d fallen. It was a rare, and usually wealthy, family that was able to retrieve their dead. Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar, was famously preserved in a cask of rum until his fleet returned to London. But his treatment was rare. More often, soldiers’ remains were returned years later after temporary internment. By then, there was little left but dried bones.

During the Civil War, the railroad allowed quick transportation for the fallen. It was quick, but not quick enough to fend off the obvious effects of decomposition. Ice proved to be impractical for a trip of several weeks, so surgeons began to use various concoctions to preserve the body long enough for the trip and subsequent funeral. Formaldehyde wasn’t discovered until after the war, so these early embalmers tried other substances such as arsenic, creosote, mercury, turpentine or alcohol. It’s no wonder that the embalming profession itself had a high mortality rate. As crude as the practices were, grieving families were grateful to have their loved ones returned home and embalming became nearly standard practice in North America.

With this greater care of dead came a desire for more elegant coffins. The traditional shape, six sides tapered at the shoulders, gave way to a rectangular casket that looked more like a piece of fine furniture. The field specialized as a branch of cabinet-making, which was why James Field’s business was “Fine Furniture and Undertaking.” Today we’d never think of going to a furniture store to pick up a casket, but it didn’t seem morbid at all in 1900.

Although some funerals were still held in private homes in the early 1900s, the advent of the funeral parlor made the practice less common. Caskets ceased to be sold in furniture stores, so you could no longer browse through stacks of them while shopping for a new dining room set. Field’s Undertaking services ceased to be listed in Exeter’s business directory by 1920, and by the 1940s there are almost no home funerals listed in obituaries. Death had become quite separate from the everyday world of the living.

Field Trip Day 1913

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on October 15, 2010.

by Barbara Rimkunas

The Exeter Historical Society and American Independence Museum recently hosted a field trip of over 100 students from the Cooperative Middle School. As we put them through their paces; writing with quill pens, identifying map features, transcribing impossibly hard documents and analyzing features of puzzling artifacts, the day was a reminder of the value of field trips. They’re not some new idea invented by helicopter parents who want to give their kids an ‘enrichment’ experience. Field trips have been around a long time.

In 1914, the Exeter News-Letter reported that “Miss Elizabeth H. Baker last Friday took her Seminary Class to Salem, Mass., to inspect places of historic interest. This was her 18th trip.” Although she wasn’t an English teacher, perhaps the Salem trip was meant to counter the prevailing opinion then (as now) that some of the classroom reading was a tad dull. “We are reading House of Seven Gables,” Seminary student Louise Tyler wrote in her diary in 1910, “I hate it.”

Young Helen Tufts recorded the same exciting excursion in her diary, “My class went to Salem on special car. Ate lunch on the train! Visited all sorts of historical places. Got back at 5:30.” Considering she didn’t mention which ‘historical places’ she visited, it’s easy to conclude that the trip’s highlight was lunch.

Maybe a better strategy was to give the students an actual assignment while on a field trip instead of a vague ‘inspect places of historic interest.’ The first and second year students took Nature Study as their science class. Every fall, they’d head out into the wilds of nature to take notes and study the flora and fauna of New Hampshire. Emma Kimball kept her school notebook and it now belongs to the Exeter Historical Society. In penmanship that is enviable in an 11-year old, she wrote notes about the “cricked” and “muscrates.” “Crickeds,” she wrote, have “feelers longer than the whole body.” Her teacher, Miss Maud Jewell, who’s dual teaching roles of nature study and penmanship (Palmer Method) may account for the quality of Emma’s notebook, encouraged the girls to get outside. Emma had a list of “Things to do in the Fall,” which included: “Learn to stand still; Go in every variety of weather; Don’t expect to find all the animals in a row; Use your ears and your eyes; Go raccooning; Go cacooning”

After being prepped in this style, the girls went on a Saturday afternoon field trip to Fort Rock Farm. Starting at the Seminary on Lincoln Street at 10:30, they headed north towards Forest Street and there enjoyed some fresh water from the jailhouse spring. “The water here was refreshing and after filling our bottles and cans we prepared for a long march into the woods .” They reached Fort Rock at noon and, after a quick lunch, went on to the ledges - a granite outcropping with a pool of water below. Although some of the girls went climbing, others stuck to the task at hand, “They used the nets for dredging the pool and found many interesting (things). While some of us finished our lunch, the girls were bringing us tadpoles, polliwogs, frogs, common leeches, back swimmers and American newts, - these last are easily confounded with lizards, but they had so smooth a skin, we could readily see they differed from the scale-covered lizard.” They captured a garter snake and Emma noted, “The girls of our class did not scream and run at the sight of a snake – for that is unreasonable.”

The following year, the class ventured to Hampton Beach on the streetcar on a Tuesday. “The weather was lovely, although it was the coldest September 29th that had been known in thirty-one years,” Emma wrote. They scoured the beach for specimens finding sea urchins, starfish and sand dollars in great abundance. But it was the crabs that the girls found most intriguing. “At first we could scarcely tell where the head was, but we noticed the position of the eyes and that settled the question. Walking, as they do, forward, backward, and even sideways with equal ease, it seems as if they, too, might be slightly puzzled about their formation, and so, not stopping to decide which part is intended to go foremost, they dart off on a venture, and in the oddest manner possible.”

Emma’s observations make us realize how important field trips can be. They get you out of the classroom for a while and perhaps out of one’s comfort zone. Field trips can make you brave even when you’re a little scared, whether it’s a slithery snake or a crazy historical society curator wielding an 1812 musket with full bayonet attached. The experience itself links together the sights, smells and textures of a different place – different from a classroom or computer screen – and that, in itself, is the value of a field trip. Even if the best part is lunch.