Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mini Golf in Brookline: Past & Present

Did you know that Brookline once had an indoor miniature golf course designed by perhaps the most famous golf course architect of all time?

Littlputt Links, designed by Donald J. Ross, opened in 1930 on the second floor of the building at 308-312 Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner. That’s the space now occupied by Michael’s Salon, above Magic Beans and the Regal Beagle restaurant.

Chronicle Ad
Brookline Chronicle, 11/27/1930
Ross, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame, “was, and still is, considered the Michelangelo of golf.” He was the first architect (and one of only five to date) inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Among the best known of the more than 400 courses he designed over a half-century career are Pinehurst #2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Seminole in Juno Beach, Florida, Oak Hill in Pittsford, New York, and Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Ross was also a successful golfer, playing in seven U.S. Opens and finishing as high as fifth (in 1903).

Ross designed what was to be a second 18-hole course for The Country Club in Brookline in 1921 but it was never built. He was also invited to submit a design for the municipal course that eventually became the Robert T. Lynch Golf Club at Putterham Meadows, but he declined. (He reportedly was opposed to entering design competitions.)

Boston Globe, 10/26/1930
But despite these setbacks, Brookline did have its Donald Ross-designed course, if only in miniature and only for a short time. In October of 1930, Ross took out a lease on the second floor of the commercial building next to the Coolidge Corner Arcade. Littlputt Links announced its November 15th opening with an ad in the Brookline Chronicle promising “features that appeal to the experienced golfer as well as the miniature golf fan.”

Chronicle Ad
Brookline Chronicle, 11/13/1930
 The course does not appear to have lasted long; the last ad for Littlput ran in the Chronicle less than three weeks after the opening and it was not listed in the town directory the following year. Later occupants of the second floor included the Oriental Restaurant (with a band and dancing) and, as seen in the photo below, 20th Century Billiards.

Photo of building with billiard parlor on second floor
Photo from Town of Brookline Preservation Office
I contacted the Donald Ross Archives in North Carolina to learn more about Ross’ design for the Brookline mini-course. But despite extensive collections of plans and other documentation of Ross’ work, they had no record of Lillputt Links. It remains an oddity and a bit of a mystery from Brookline’s past.

There may no longer be a Donald Ross-designed miniature golf course in Brookline, but mini-golf fans can have fun, test their skills, and help support the Public Library of Brookline at the main library on Washington Street this Saturday, June 20th. See Tee Off @ the Library for details.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blacksmith Shop to Auto Garage to Teen Center

New Life and an Old Story at 40 Aspinwall Avenue
40 Aspinwall Avenue before and after
40 Aspinwall Avenue before and after its conversion to the Brookline Teen Center
Brookline’s 2014 Preservation Awards ceremony took place last November at the Brookline Teen Center on Aspinwall Avenue. The Teen Center itself was one of the recipients, recognized for its adaptive reuse of a nearly century old garage. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a gem, inside and out, a tribute to all who worked on it: founders Paul and Saskia Epstein and their community supporters; the architects and builders; the staff; and the Brookline teens who helped design it.

Their efforts have given new life to an old garage built in 1916 for Frank Turner, a blacksmith and horseshoer who may himself have arrived in Boston as a teenager, a stowaway from Northern Ireland on a British cargo ship in 1883.

Turner was born Francis Turner in Drumnavaddy, near Belfast, in 1866, the son of a weaver and his wife.  It can't be said for certain when he arrived in Boston, but the only immigration record matching his name, age, and birthplace was that of a Frank Turner, 17, one of four stowaways on the S.S. Illyria arriving from Liverpool in October 1883.
Turner ship's manifest
Frank Turner, age 17, is the last of four passengers marked "Stowaways" on this 1883 ship's manifest
By 1892 he was living in Boston’s South End and working as a blacksmith near Castle Square.  He was the co-owner of the Turner & Lyons blacksmith shop on Ferdinand Street (now the southern part of Arlington Street).

Listing for Frank Turner in 1899 Boston Directory
Listing for Frank Turner in 1899 Boston Directory
He married another Irish immigrant, Nora Cronin, a dressmaker, in 1901 and became a U.S. citizen in 1902.

Nora and Frank Turner
Nora and Frank Turner in an undated studio photograph
Photo courtesy of Ronald Turner
The Turners had moved to Roxbury by 1906. That year, Turner’s partner, Joseph H. Lyons, died and Turner came to Brookline to work in the blacksmith and horseshoeing shop of P.J. Burns in Brookline Village.

P.J. Burns blacksmith shopAd for P.J. Burns blacksmith shop

The Burns shop stood at 152 Washington Street next to the firehouse at the foot of High Street. It moved down the street to 87 Washington when the current firehouse was built on the site in 1908.

Four years later, Turner was in business for himself again, and he and his wife and their son Harold became Brookline residents. In January 1912 they purchased the 42 Aspinwall Avenue home of blacksmith T. W. Burlingame and the wood frame blacksmith shop behind it.

Turner home with sign in alley
Frank and Nora Turner’s home at 42 Aspinwall Avenue (right) with the alley leading to the wood frame blacksmith shop at #40. The sign says “Frank Turner. Scientific Horseshoeing. Carriage and Wagon Repairing.” (Photo courtesy of Ronald Turner)

1913 Frank Turner, Horseshoer ad
Advertisement from the 1913 Brookline Blue Book directory
Construction notice for 40 Aspinwall Avenue garage
Notice in The American Contractor, February 26, 1916
By this time the automobile was rapidly replacing horse-drawn wagons and carriages. In 1916 Turner replaced the wood frame shop with the brick auto garage that houses the Teen Center today. The architect was George Nelson Meserve, a prolific designer of commercial and residential buildings in Boston, Brookline, and elsewhere.

The garage, known variously as Turner’s Garage and the Aspinwall Garage, offered automobile storage and repairs and sold Socony (Standard Oil Co. of NY) gasoline.  Manufacturers and private owners also offered vehicles for sale and lease through the garage, as seen in the ads below.
Ads for Turner's Garage
Ads from Boston Post (left), 1919, and Boston Globe (right) top to bottom 1917, 1917, 1919
Frank and Nora Turner sold the house and garage in 1924 and moved to 29 Auburn Street. Frank then worked as an auto mechanic at the Hinchcliffe Motor Car Co. (900 Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline), New England distributor for Jordan automobiles.

Nora died of pneumonia in 1926. The following year, Frank moved to California with his two sons. He owned an oil well in southern California with his son Harold for a time. Frank Turner died in 1944 at the age of 78.

Dexter Garage ad, 1932
Brookline Directory ad, 1932
The garage passed through two owners in five years after Turner before being purchased by Frank S. Dexter in 1928. He would own it for a decade and a half. Dexter was also the first proprietor of the garage who did not live in the house in front of it at 42 Aspinwall.
Later businesses in the garage building included the B&B Corrugated Box Co. after World War II; the Hayes & Shea auto service company in the 1960s (they tore down the house in front of the garage); and International Tire in the 1980s. Brookline Auto Body and Kenmore Auto Sales were the most recent occupants before the conversion to the Teen Center.

Ads from businesses at 40 Aspinwall Avenue

Frank Turner and his successors may be long gone, but the Teen Center renovation has retained several links to the building’s past in place (below), including an “Auto Body Repairs” sign on one wall, an original steel beam (hanging over the “Auto Body CafĂ©”) with the inscription “From the A.L. Smith Iron Works, Chelsea”, and yellow parking space lines on the floor by the pool table.

Auto repair sign in Teen Center
Steel beam in Teen Center

Parking spot lines on Teen Center floor
(A version of this article appeared earlier in the Brookline Historical Society members newsletter)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Brookline High School, Class of 1898

They were 14 friends — 12 young women and 2 young men — who went to school together in Brookline more than a century ago. Their class (all but one graduated from Brookline High in 1898) was one of the first to attend the new high school that opened on Greenough Street in 1893.
Montage of 1898 BHS Students
Over time they went their separate ways. They had lives, families, careers. Some left Massachusetts for good; only two stayed in Brookline for long. The last of them died in 1982.

But they stayed together for decades in a set of exquisite photos kept by yet another friend and classmate. Those photos, presented here, eventually made their way back to Brookline and the collection of the Brookline Historical Society.

As a group, these 14 are probably no more or less remarkable than any random set of students taken from different eras in the history of the town. But looking at their long-ago faces and learning about their lives provides an unusual window into a small piece of Brookline’s past.

(NOTE : Click on photos below for larger views)

The Photos and Their Collector:
From Brookline to New Jersey and Back Again

Grace Mason
The photographs belonged to Grace Whiting Mason, later Grace Mason Young, (1879-1971). The youngest child of Albert and Lydia Mason, Grace grew up on Corey Hill in the family home at 96 Summit Avenue. (The house is no longer there.) Her father was chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court from 1890 until his death in 1905. He is probably best remembered today as one of the judges in the Lizzie Borden murder trial of 1893.

Grace was an 1898 winner of the J. Murray Kay Prize given to Brookline High School seniors by the Brookline Historical Publications Society (forerunner of the Historical Society) for historical research. Her essay was on “The Development of the Metropolitan Park System.”

After graduating from Brookline High, Grace attended Smith College, graduating in 1902. In 1904, she married Percy Sacret Young and moved with him to New Jersey where they raised four sons and four daughters. Her grandson Mason, who grew up near his grandmother, remembered her as an avid reader who would regularly send books to her grandchildren. “She had definite opinions. She was very good about guiding you to a different way of seeing things,” he said.

Grace’s photographs of her classmates remained in the family until 2010 when they were donated, along with other family items, to the Millburn-Short Hills (NJ) Historical Society, which sent the photos back here to Brookline for our collection.

There were no photos of Grace in the set; the family no doubt kept those. But further research led to three of Grace’s grandchildren, who met with me in Manomet, MA in August and shared the photo above and several more, along with papers and stories of their grandmother.

Grace Mason with mother and four siblings
Grace Mason, front left, with her mother Lydia, brother Charles
and sisters Martha (front right), Mary, and Alice (rear center and right.
(Photos courtesy of the family of Grace Mason Young)
The Classmates

Helen R. Jones
Helen R. Jones, 101 Summit Avenue
Helen Reed Jones, later Helen Reed Whitney (1878-1956) is the only classmate to appear in more than one of the photos saved by Grace Mason Young. That’s likely because they were the closest of friends, growing up across the street from one another on Summit Avenue. (Helen’s home at 101 Summit still stands, though much altered.)

Helen studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1906 she married MIT graduate Philip R. Whitney, an artist and an instructor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work was exhibited in and around Philadelphia, as well as in New York, Chicago, and other cities. She and her husband summered on Nantucket for many years, and were active in the artist's colony there.
Helen R. Jones and one of her paintings
Additional photos of Helen Reed Jones along with her painting Ebb Tide

John Marvin
John R. Marvin, 88 Perry Street
& Martha F. Ritchie, 268 Walnut Terrace

John Reginold Marvin (1880-1967) and Martha Frothingham Ritchie (1881-1945) were first cousins. Their grandfather Edward S. Ritchie was an inventor and the founder of E.S. Ritchie & Son, a manufacturer of nautical compasses and scientific instruments in Brookline Village.

John Marvin was a co-winner with Grace Mason of the 1898 J. Murray Kay Prize for his essay “The Relation of Brookline to Norfolk County.” He earned a mechanical engineering degree from MIT and had a career as an engineer in the Boston area, the Midwest and, finally, Pennsylvania where he settled with his wife Grace Field Marvin.

Martha Ritchie

Martha Ritchie's father and later her brother, both named Andrew, took over leadership of the E.S. Ritchie firm, which remained in the family until 1935. The Ritchie factory building still stands on Cypress Street, incorporated into the Cypress Lofts condominium complex.

Martha worked for a time as a teacher. She married the architect Austin Jenkins in 1911 and moved to the Chicago area.

Maud Dutton
Maud B. Dutton, 33 Colbourne Crescent
Maud Barrows Dutton, later Maude Dutton Lynch, (1880-1959) was the daughter of Samuel Train Dutton, the superintendent of schools in Brookline from 1890 to 1900.  She moved to New York with her father when he became superintendent of the Horace Mann Schools run by Teachers College, Columbia University.

Maud also followed her father in the education field, authoring a series of children’s books on “The World of Work” and on different countries and cultures. She married the Congregational minister, editor, and peace activist Frederick Lynch in 1909.

Marian Richards
Marian D. Richards, 44 Linden Street
Marian Dudley Richards, later Marian D. Emerson, (1879-1949) graduated from the the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, a teacher training school that later became part of Wellesley College, and the Tuckerman School on Beacon Hill.

She became prominent in the Unitarian Universalist movement as a Sunday school teacher, superintendent, public speaker, and social worker.

She was also active in support of peace movements, reproductive rights, and the welfare of Native Americans. (In a 1942 report to the Wellesely Alumnae Association she described her work for the Birth Control League of America as "rounding up sympathizers & convincing doubters.")

Marian married fellow Unitarian activist B. Homer Emerson in 1917 and continued to live in Brookline until her death.

Thomas I. Taylor
Thomas I. Taylor, 294 Walnut Street
Thomas Irving Taylor (1880-1977), whose father was in the hat and fur business, worked for a railroad supply company and for Sprague Electric before managing Taylor Machinery, a metalworking firm in Boston. He was awarded a patent in 1921 for an automobile water gauge “so that the driver may be informed at all times by visible means from his position when driving, whether or not the radiator water supply is in need of replenishment.”

Tom, who was married twice and lived in Newton, later worked as a vault attendant for the Newton-Waltham Bank & Trust Co.

Grace Farquahar
Grace B. Farquhar, 26 Gorham Avenue
Grace Bartlett Farquhar, later Grace Leavitt, (1880-1982) was the daughter of Joseph Farquhar, owner of a roofing company, and his wife Annie.  She married at a younger age (21) than the other BHS grads in the photos. Her husband, Frederick Leavitt, was in the real estate and insurance business in Brookline and also served in town and county government.

They lived in Brookline and later in Arlington. Grace died in Barnstable in 1982, having outlived all of the others in this group of BHS students.

Beulah Dunklee

Beulah Duncklee, 24 Williams Street
Beulah Duncklee, later Beulah Bugbee, (1879-1969) was born in Brookline, the daughter of Charles T., an attorney, and Sarah J. Duncklee.

In 1901 she married Edward Bugbee, a Brookline native and a teacher of mining engineering and metallurgy at MIT.

They lived in Brighton. Beulah moved back to Brookline after her husband’s death.

Isabel McCleery

Isabel McCleery, address uncertain
Isabel Shaw McCleery, later Isabel Doig, (1878-1915) was born in Somerville, the daughter of William C. McCleery, a button manufacturer, and his wife Ada. She lived at various times in Boston and Newton and appears to have been in Brookline for only a short time.

She married Stephen G. Doig, a lawyer, and died in 1915 at the age of 38, the shortest life by far of this generally long-lived group.

Ethel Towle
Ethel W. Towle, 31 Kent Square
Ethel Ward Towle, later Ethel Haslet, (1880-1949), was the daughter of Unitarian minister Edwin Towle and his wife Isabel. Her father was pastor of Brookline’s Second Unitarian Church, which was formed in 1896 and moved into its new building (now Temple Sinai) on Sewall Avenue in 1901.

Ethel's father was later pastor in Hillsborough, NH, where, in 1921, he presided at Ethel’s marriage to widower George Haslet, president of the Hillsborough Woolen Mills. George died in 1928. Ethel moved to Boston where she died 21 years later.

Ella Fenno and Helen Jones

Ella C. Fenno, 3 Kilsyth Road
Ella Cheever Fenno, later Ella Clough, (1878-1936) is the only student not to appear in her own, formal, photo. Instead, she appears in one with her arm around Helen Jones, one of four pictures of Helen in the Grace Mason set.

Ella married Charles Clough, an insurance executive, in 1904. (They are mentioned together in Boston Globe social columns in 1900 (at a dance) and 1901 (at a Clough family home in Maine). Charles survived Ella by more than 30 years.

Marion L. Sharp
Marion L. Sharp, 12 Fairbanks Street
Marion Louise Sharp (1878-1967) graduated from BHS in 1897, one year earlier than the other students. Her grandfather was Samuel A. Robinson who owned a tannery on Washington Street and lived in a house nearby where Marion was most likely born. He built a house in 1892 at 12 Fairbanks Street where three generations of the family lived.

Marion was a winner of theJ. Murray Kay Prize that year for her essay “Three Glimpses of Brookline: In 1700, 1800, and 1900.” She graduated from Smith College in 1901 and later taught school in Gloucester, Woburn, Brookline, and other towns.

Mystery Student
The Mystery Student
Only one of the photos saved by Grace Mason Young did not have a name written on the back. Who was she?

One possibility is an 1898 BHS grad named Sabina Marshall (1879-1968) who lived on Summit Avenue near Grace Mason and Helen Jones. (See the map below.)

There is no question the three girls were old friends. They were photographed together on Corey Hill years earlier in this delightful picture shared by Grace’s family.

Grace Mason, Sabina Marshall, Helen Jones
Left to right, Grace Mason, Sabina Marshall, Helen Jones. (Photo Courtesy of the family of Grace Mason Young)

Is Sabina Marshall the mystery student? Stay tuned, as our research continues.
Map of Mason, Jones, and Marshall houses on Summit Avenue
Map showing the Mason, Jones, and Marshall properties on Summit Avenue
NOTE: A version of this article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of the Brookline Historical Society newsletter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

First Light: Coolidge Corner Then & Now

Enjoy artists, musicians, and performers while visiting Brookline's fine shops as the annual First Light festival takes place this Thursday, November 20th, from 5 to 8 pm. And keep an eye out in Coolidge Corner for "Then & Now" posters showing selected locations as they looked  in the past.

There are 10 in all (listed below) with pictures, advertisements, and descriptions. They show and tell what shoppers of earlier generations found in the same storefronts we shop in today.

"Then & Now" posters in the windows of Eureka Puzzles and Wild Goose Chase
Eureka Puzzles' David Leschinsky, left, with the "Then & Now" poster in his store window. At right, poster in the window of Wild Goose Chase.
To learn more about the history of the Coolidge Corner shopping district, visit the Edward Devotion House at 347 Harvard Street on Thursday night. There will be a continuously-running 10-minute slideshow, and I'll be there to talk, listen, and share stories of Brookline's past. (The colonial Devotion House will also be open for tours.)

Coolidge Corner Then & Now Locations
Eureka Puzzles, 1349 Beacon Street
Wild Good Chase, 1355 Beacon Street
Paper Source, 1361 Beacon Street
Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street
Panera Bread, 299 Harvard Street
Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard Street
Magic Beans, 312 Harvard Street
The Arcade Building, 314 Harvard Street
The Altman Block, 319 Harvard Street
Zaftigs, 335 Harvard Street

This project was funded by a grant from the Brookline Commission for the Arts. The Brookline Preservation Office was the source for many of the photos, while ads were found in directories and local newspapers in the Public Library of Brookline.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Final Fall Walking Tour: Blake Park, Sunday 2pm

In 1880, banker Arthur Welland Blake engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to draw plans for the subdivision into roads and lots of the Blake family estate on Aspinwall Hill.

Olmsted and his firm drew numerous plans for the Blakes over the next 15 years, but they were never executed. The estate remained something of an anomaly: a large tract of open land, renowned for its landscaping, in the heart of a community rapidly developing as a "streetcar suburb".

It wasn't until 1916 that land was sold, roads were laid out — somewhat differently than Olmsted had envisioned them — and the development of "Blake Park" was announced with some fanfare.

Blake Estate and Blake Park maps, 1913 and 1927
These maps show the Blake Estate in 1913 (top) and the same area under development as Blake Park in 1927 (bottom). Click on the maps for a larger view.

Death and financial scandal delayed development for another decade. Finally, in 1925, with both Blake and Olmsted long dead, a new largely middle-class neighborhood began to emerge, populated by the families of bankers and brokers, doctors and lawyers, salesman, college professors, contractors, and local merchants.

This free, 90-minute walking tour will tell the story of the transformation (in fits and starts) of this part of Brookline from a private estate to a residential neighborhood that remains largely as it was when first built.

The tour begins — rain or shine — at 2:00 pm in front of the main entrance to Brookline High School on Greenough Street.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

High on Aspinwall Hill

The photo below, taken sometime in the first decade of the 20th century, shows Aspinwall Hill from a vantage point on Corey Hill. (See a supersized version of the photo here.)

Aspinwall Hill from Corey Hill

For perspective, note the building with the rounded corner at lower right. It was — and still is —at the southeast corner of Washington and Beacon Streets. Athan's Bakery occupies the first floor today.

The Athans Bakery building, then and now

Several other buildings in the photo are still there today: buildings on Washington Street (just behind the Athan's building) and, successively higher up the hill, on University Road, Winthrop Road, Addington Road, and Colbourne Crescent.

But what was that building with the tower at the top of the hill? It looks like a church or other institutional edifice.

In fact, it was the home of Clarence and Rosamond Esty on Addington Road. The tower, unusual for a private home, was built to take advantage of the house's location at the top of the hill. Here's how the Boston Post described it in 1913:

Few houses in the world have such a magnificent panorama spread out before them as that of Clarence H. Esty, 97 Addington road, Brookline. This house is situated on the top of a hill, and Mr. Esty has bought up all the land immediately surrounding it, so as to avoid all possibility of the view of which he is so proud becoming obstructed. On the top of the house Mr. Esty has built an observation tower, in which is a powerful telescope. From this point of vantage the whole of Boston lies spread out before one, not to mention all the suburbs and the country to the west.

Clarence H. Esty
Clarence Houghton Esty (1854-1917) was born in Ithaca, New York. He earned a law degree from Cornell University, but never practiced. He joined his father and brother in the prosperous leather manufacturing business founded by Clarence's grandfather. Esty married Rosamond Claire Field in 1893 and built the Brookline house for his family in 1897 after retiring from business.

Clarence Esty died in 1917. Rosamond Esty died in 1942. The property was acquired by the Town of Brookline. After  demolition of the house it was turned into Addington Park, renamed Schick Park in 1955.

Schick Park on Addington Road is on the site of the Esty home and observation tower that stood from 1897 until the 1940s.

NOTE: The Aspinwall Hill photo is one of several photos from the collection of Warren Manning, former planting supervisor for Frederick Law Olmsted in Brookline. It was taken after Manning left Olmsted to go out on his own. The photos are held by the Iowa State University Library Special Collections and have been reproduced with their permission.

The building immediately below the tower in the Manning photo is actually across the street from the Esty house, at 94-98 Addington Road, where it still stands.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Antiques & Horribles" on the Fourth of July

Firehouse on Washington Street, 1891
Photo credit: Brookline Historical Society
This recently discovered photo shows the old firehouse on Washington Street, at the corner of High Street, in 1891. Flanked by two wooden commercial buildings, the firehouse (replaced by the current building in 1908) is decked out for the Fourth of July.

But on closer examination, something seems odd.

Closeup of firehouse

The bunting looks twisted and sloppily hung. The flag is facing the wrong direction. It's also bunched up on the lower left — not exactly proper flag decorum — and the white stripes look...well...not so white. And there's a stuffed figure of a fireman on the top, in front of the tower. (Compare it to this photo of the same firehouse decorated a decade or so later.)

And yet, according to an account in the Boston Post, "The building occupied by the Hose 1 and Engine 1 companies was the most tastefully decorated in the town, and was awarded the prize of $10 as such."

What's going on here?

An Old Tradition
The answer may lie in an old New England tradition: the Antiques & Horribles parade on the Fourth of July. The Antiques & Horribles — sometimes shortened to the "Horribles Parade" — was an annual event in Brookline and many other towns in the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. It's still celebrated in several towns today.

Local residents would dress up as "antiques" — figures from the past — or "horribles" — characters in strange and often grotesque or macabre guise. The horribles, according to Yankee Magazine, "used elaborate costumes, masks, blackface, cross-dressing, and other disguise to illustrate gender and class reversal. Their satire and broad parody were often aimed at authority, women, and foreigners."

The tradition probably began in the 1840s — the earliest known example is in Lowell in 1851 — as a parody of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

The "Ancients & Honorables," as they are called, are "the oldest chartered military organization in the Western hemisphere." Formed in 1638 "to train young gentleman officers for service in the various militias of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," the company has taken part in Independence Day celebrations since the earliest days of the nation.

Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company on parade in Boston, 1900

By the middle of the 19th century, the Ancients and Honorables, by then a largely symbolic organization, were ripe for parody. Here's how UCLA linguist William Matthews (in the journal American Speech, October 1940) described the rise of the "Horribles" as a reaction to the Ancients and Honorables:

As it became a body of eminent citizens who had the taste for military organization, of course practically every member was an officer of this of that other regiment; and the members personally were not snappy young cadets with reputations to make and physiques that needed no making, but solid burghers who had gone beyond their youth in becoming eminent by activities that did not involve keeping the body in fighting condition.

The result was that on such occasions of state as called for a parade of the... "Ancients and Honorables"...the variegated display of diverse uniforms on unathletic figures looked comic to a visitor who had not been brought up to reverence the Company's high status.

So a time came when it was customary in country villages to burlesque it by a Fourth-of-July parade of..."Antiques and Horribles"...Nowadays, "Antique" is omitted from the title; but it is still customary that part of the costumes try to look as antiquated as possible while others try to look as frowzy as possible.

According to Yankee Magazine, "the disorderly and drunken training days that characterized the last years of compulsory militia service" may also have had something to do with the rise of the Antiques & Horribles.

Antiques & Horribles in Brookline and Beyond
Brookline's 1891 Independence Day celebration, like those of other years, began at 7 am with an Antiques & Horribles parade.  It started at the corner of Washington and Cypress Streets, marched down Washington through Brookline Village to the firehouse, and then west on Boylston back to Cypress and Cypress Field.

The Post reported that the parade "was not up to the standard of those of former years" though Brookline's own paper, the Chronicle, said it was "exceptionally good."

Boston Post article on 1891 parade
Boston Post, July 6, 1891

Although no pictures of that year's parade have come to light, it seems likely that the odd decoration of the firehouse was done in the spirit of the Antiques & Horribles. Perhaps it was changed to a more respectable display after the morning parade. Or maybe the report of it being "tastefully decorated" was tongue-in-cheek.

The Antiques & Horribles photo below from Brookline in the late 1890s or early 1900s gives a sense of the comedic turn these parades often took. It shows a float whimsically promoting flying machine races on Corey Hill, the "Brookline Liquid Air Railway", and other municipal "advancements" such as car rides 50 years in the future from the "City of Brookline" to "Boston Village."

Less whimsical to modern eyes are several characters in blackface, all too common in this era. Prizes awarded in 1891, in fact (in addition to the firehouse), included characters dressed as "Negro minstrels" and a "colored boy on a donkey." 

Photo credit: Brookline Public Library
Click on the image for a larger, zoomable view at Digital Commonwealth
A second photo, from Brookline's 1889 Fourth of July celebration, shows several oddly-dressed characters (including a honeymooning couple with a mustache peeking out from behind the "bride's" veil) amid baseball players and soldiers in antique uniforms. (See the full zoomable photo at Digital Commonwealth)

Characters on Fourth of July 1889
Photo credit: Brookline Public Library

Two more examples, from other Massachusetts towns, give a better sense of the "horribles" costumes typical of these parades.

Antiques & Horribles, New Bedford
Figures at an Antiques & Horribles parade, New Bedford, MA
Photo credit: New Bedford Free Public Library
Antiques & Horribles, Andover
"Horribles" on a float, Andover, MA
Photo credit: Andover Historical Society

Horribles Parades Today
The tradition of Fourth of July Antiques & Horribles parades spread beyond New England. There were versions in New York City's Harlem, in California, Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, and elsewhere. The Ancients and Honorables themselves held a 7 am Antiques & Horribles parade on July 4, 1896 on board the steamship Servia as they marked Independence Day on their way to visit England.

The parades had largely died out by the middle of the 20th century, although some towns have continued or revived them. Contemporary examples, usually minus the satire of earlier days, include parades in Marblehead, Gloucester, Beverly Farms, Winthrop, Danvers, and New Silver Beach (North Falmouth), all in Massachusetts, and Glocester in Rhode Island.

The term "parade of horribles" has also taken on a metaphorical sense in the legal arena, reaching all the way to the United States Supreme Court, as recounted in a column by former Boston Globe language columnist Ben Zimmer.

NOTE: The commercial buildings on either side of the firehouse in the 1891 photo have their own stories to tell. More about those in a later blog post