Archive for April 2011

I’m a Ramblin’ Guy

April 28, 2011

This Sunday will be my second James Joyce Ramble Road Race in old Shiretown. Oh, I won’t be running; my running days ended when I was struggling up a hill in a corporate “Fun Run'” in Boston and got passed by a guy dressed as a bag of Smart Food.

I will be pitching my tent on the lawn of the Endicott Estate and peddling my wares- copies of Dedham: Historic and Heroic Tales from Shiretown as well as some attractive Dedham notecards. So come on by and say “hi,” get your Mother’s Day shopping done, and find out about my latest book project!

Here’s a link to the Ramble website:

New Deal Art in the Post Office

April 23, 2011

Early Rural Mail Delivery by W. Lester Stevens
© Damianos Photography

Early Rural School by W. Lester Stevens
© Damianos Photography

How many times have you been in the post office in the Square and seen these paintings in the lobby and wondered who painted them, when were they installed there, and why? Well, now the wondering is over.

The two murals, Early Rural Mail Delivery and Early Rural School are the work of Rockport based artist W. Lester Stevens (1888-1969), who created the oil on canvas murals in 1936 as part of the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), one of several art programs which fell under the umbrella of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the New Deal agency that employed millions during the Depression.

The federal art programs were created to not only help out-of-work artists, but to enable average Americans to view and enjoy works of arts for free in public spaces. Hundreds of murals were installed in post offices, schools, and federal buildings across the country. Most of the art depicted inspiring scenes from America’s past. You can view 40 other works of New Deal art that survive in Massachusetts (and many more across the country) at this website:

A comic strip from 1939 featuring a Post Office mural

Dedham is fortunate to have such a treasure; go see it in person in the Post Office lobby, 611 High St.
Thanks again to Joe Flynn and George Milne of the Dedham Post Office for their help in photographing the murals, and to Lynne Damianos for the great photos.

The Dedham Post Office at 75

April 19, 2011

July, 1935

September, 1936

April, 2011 © Damianos Photography

The Dedham Post Office on High St. celebrated its 75th anniversary last October. The cornerstone was laid in a ceremony the previous April. Thanks to Customer Service Supervisor Joe Flynn for the following pictures which show the progress of the construction throughout 1935.

February, 1935: I love this picture which shows a great side view of Memorial Hall, which was located where the police station now stands.

April, 1935

June, 1935: Looks like Bonnie and Clyde have stopped by to check out the progress of the construction.
NEXT: The Post Office Murals

Dedham’s Last Union Soldier

April 12, 2011

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and towns and cities across the country will be observing this day, and many other anniversaries connected with the conflict, over the next 4 years. Today I am profiling Dedham’s last living link to the “War of the Rebellion,” John E. Bronson.

John E. Bronson died on April 7, 1943 at the age of 95. He had been Dedham’s sole surviving veteran for a number of years, and regularly marched in parades, visited schools and attended veterans’ encampments. He often entertained visitors in his home on Sanderson Ave. with stories of his war experiences, which included chasing General Robert E. Lee and witnessing his surrender at Appomatox.
Bronson commanded Dedham’s G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Post 144 for 24 years, and was one of the last surviving 25 Massachusetts Civil War veterans. Bronson was born in the White Mountain town of Dalton, New Hampshire. The last surviving Dedham born veteran was Weston F. Hutchins, who died in 1932.
The nation’s last surviving Union soldier was Albert Woolson, of Minnesota who passed away in August, 1956 at age 109.

Red Sox Home Opener 2011

April 8, 2011

In honor of today’s game, I present an excerpt from my book Dedham: Historic and Heroic Tales from Shiretown describing a little known episode in the history of baseball. Go Sox!

Dedham or Cooperstown?
Imagine you are in the bleachers at Fenway Park watching a playoff game between the Red Sox and their longtime rivals, the New York Yankees. It’s a close game, with Boston leading 59–55 and nobody out. The Sox have a man on second base. The New York twelve are spread out on the rectangle, waiting for the home team striker to take his knocks. Here’s the pitch—it’s a long fly ball, caught by the Yankee outfielder; he catches it and hurls it toward home, plugging the Sox runner square in the back. “You’re out!” hollers the referee, and the Yankees run off the field to take their knocks.

Had a group of local baseball club presidents meeting in Dedham in 1858 gotten their way, scenes such as this one would be played out on ball fields around the country each summer, and Dedham would be known today as the birthplace of modern baseball. On May 13, 1858, the Phoenix House hosted a convention of the Massachusetts Association of Base Ball Players, which came to the High Street hotel to draft a set of rules and regulations for the “Massachusetts” version of the popular sport.

The Phoenix stood on the corner of Washington and High Streets, where the K. of C. building is today. It burned down in 1880.

Representatives from ten local ball clubs, including three from Boston and one from Dedham, worked all morning on drafting a constitution before breaking for a bountiful lunch supplied by Phoenix landlord J.D. Howe. According to Article I of the constitution adopted that day, the purpose of the association was to “improve and foster the Massachusetts game of baseball and the cultivation of kindly feelings among the different members of Base Ball Clubs in this state.” While B.F. Gould of Boston’s Tri-Mountain Club demonstrated “kindly feelings” as he addressed his fellow presidents that day, he made it clear that his club would be withdrawing from the association in order to play the game under the rival “New York” rules.

The seventeen rules adopted by the association that day describe a game more like English rounders. The field of play was rectangular, unlike the diamond shape of modern baseball. Each team was allowed only one out per at-bat. Runners did not have to be tagged in order to be called out—a fielder could strike or “plug” the runner with the ball in order to make an out. The game ended when one team scored one hundred runs.
The New York game, introduced by the Knickerbocker club in the 1840s, was much closer to modern baseball. There was a great rivalry between proponents of the two versions of the game, and for a while after the convention the Massachusetts game was becoming more popular than the New York game. But the New York rules were easier to follow and made for a more exciting game, and as the city itself emerged as the center of trade and industry in America, the New York game became the standard. The Civil War helped to spread the popularity of the New York game, and in 1871, the establishment of the first professional league, operating under New York rules, signaled the end of the Massachusetts game. The only rules from the Dedham Convention that exist in modern baseball are the overhand pitch and the called strike.
After their long day’s schedule of meetings, the gentlemen who had gathered at the Phoenix naturally celebrated their hard work with a ballgame, which was well attended by townspeople.

LIFE in Dedham Part 2

April 6, 2011

On May 1 and 2 1952, LIFE magazine came to Dedham to report on a play presented by Mrs. Elizabeth Gurley and her fifth grade class at the Avery School. According to the Transcript, photographer Robert Mottar took over 1000 photographs of the performance of “The Terror of New England,” a historical drama written by Mrs. Gurley’s husband Franklin.

The caption reads: Scuffling spectators, younger brothers of actors, roll on floor during dress rehearsal, which was attended by mothers who could not get to the show.

The play might be considered a little politically incorrect by today’s standards, and the article seems condescending; focusing on the mishaps and backstage antics of second grader Phillip Wisowaty, who was on “loan” for the production. Other students pictured in the article were: Billy McElhinny, Larry Bolestra, Eleanor Schoener, and the daughter of Mrs. Theodore Wiskont. One interesting fact mentioned is that some of the costumes were leftover from a movie that had been filmed in town. This undoubtedly refers to the Dedham Tercentenary movie filmed to commemorate the town’s 300th birthday in 1936.

The principal is Mr. James O’Connell
These fifth graders would now be close to 70 years old. Perhaps you know one or two if them and could ask them to give you their story of their brush with fame. Go to Google books to see the entire article.