I am officially 9 days into this 4 week adventure. That makes me a little sad because I don’t really want to leave. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, I miss my family and friends, but I would just prefer that they all move here!
This past week has been a blast, and I’ve had my mind blown more than a couple of times. I spent this week reading diaries, letters, and pamphlets at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Let me tell you, the possibilities there are endless! They have so much material. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what was available and what I specifically wanted to see. Then I met with one of their librarians and discovered a whole new way of searching for what I wanted to find. I’ve found some pretty cool stuff including the papers of Leverett Saltonstall, a very high class member of Boston society and the Commissioner for Massachusetts at the Centennial Exhibition. In searching through the Saltonstall family papers, I also found letters of Amos A. Lawrence (founder of Lawrence University in WI) talking about his plan for visiting the Exhibition. Tomorrow, I’m hoping to find something about the Exhibition in the letters of Anne Hooper, who was the Chairman of the Massachusetts Women’s Committee!
However, I’ve unfortunately faced some duds too. I’ve requested to look at many documents simply because I see “1876” somewhere in their catalog description. The Exhibition was a big deal, so it’s always worth a shot to see if I can find anything. Unfortunately, not everyone was as enthralled by the Exhibition as I am…or at least they didn’t write about it and make sure it was preserved for 140 years so that someone like me could do a research project about it. I can’t say I blame them for not being so forward-minded. Here’s a word of advice, if you would like to keep records of your daily life and send them to an archive after you pass away so that someone can read about your experiences in another 140 years, don’t write in pencil. Also, try to use your best handwriting. I feel like a detective sometimes, trying to decode certain words and phrases. I’ve even had to give up and leave blank spaces in my transcriptions. And as a side note, writing changes A LOT over time. For example, the letters “p” and “t” were written a lot differently in 1876. A cursive “p” looks a lot like a modern-day cursive “f,” and a cursive “t” looks a lot like a cursive “b” today.
All-in-all, I can’t complain one bit! I’ve stumbled upon some really interesting documents and learned many things that I didn’t know about the Exhibition. For example, there was a 9 1/2 foot long $1,500 table knife on display. Why? … Why not!? Giants need to eat too!
In all seriousness though, I’m personally beginning to experience the Centennial Exhibition in a new way. Through the first-hand accounts I’m reading, I get a sense of what it was really like to be there. And it wasn’t the same for everyone. The Commissioner for Massachusetts did not have the same experience as a 16-year-old boy. I look forward to being able to share this experiences with you! Stay tuned!