Archive for the ‘History/Mystery’ category

Haunted Dedham Part One- The Fairbanks House- is it still occupied?

October 2, 2011

The Fairbanks House in Dedham has stood at the corner of Eastern Avenue and East Street for over 350 years, having survived arson attempts, threat of demolition, wood-boring beetles, a head-on collision with a car, and a family scandal in 1801 when Jason Fairbanks was convicted and hanged for the murder of his sweetheart Betsey Fales. Why has this particular house survived so many near disasters through the centuries? It could be that the house had a little added protection in the form of signs and objects placed within the dwelling over the centuries by superstitious Fairbanks family members, beginning with the original occupants Jonathan and Grace Fayerbanke.

The deeply carved intersecting lines in the fireplace timbers pictured above are believed to be hex signs intended to keep both witches and fire from harming the occupants. Over the years shoes have been found in the ceilings and behind the chimney; placed there to trap evil spirits as they attempted to enter the home. Other early Dedham residents took similar measures to keep their homes and families safe. When the seventeenth century John Farrington house was renovated in the 1880’s, a spoon was found under the foundation, placed there by the builders to give the house strength. A “hex” sign can also be found on the front door latch of the Dedham Community House, built for Judge Samuel Haven.

A nearly identical mark found on the door latch of a house in West Brookfield, Massachusetts inspired the name of the restaurant now operating there- The Salem Cross Inn. The Community House was built in 1795, long after the witch hysteria had faded from Massachusetts, and so the hex mark may be nothing more than a decorative touch added by the ironworker who crafted the latch.

Last fall, paranormal investigators from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) spent a night in the Fairbanks House, looking and listening for signs of paranormal activity. When the team checked their recording equipment afterwards, they reported hearing footsteps, voices, and a child’s laughter. They returned again in April and recorded quite a bit of activity, convincing them that there was some kind of supernatural presence in the house.
If you’d like to do your own paranormal investigation, you’d better get there soon- the house closes for the winter at the end of October.

Dedham’s 375th a Success!

September 16, 2011

© Damianos Photography
Thanks to everyone who stopped by my booth or rode around in a trolley with me last Saturday. The event was a smashing success; congratulations and thanks to everyone on the committee who worked so hard to put it all together.

There are plenty of new Shiretown tales coming this fall, with an emphasis in October on the mysterious, the scandalous, and the just plain weird!

Happy Terquasquicentennial, Dedham!

September 8, 2011

According to Wikipedia, Terquasquicentennial is a word that means 375th anniversary. Maybe.
Whatever it’s called, all of Shiretown will be celebrating this Saturday at the Endicott Estate starting at noon. Check out the Facebook page and be sure to come on by!!/event.php?eid=145732555508180
There will be historic trolley tours with a script written by yours truly! I will also be signing copies of my book and sharing fun and wacky stories, so be sure to drop by my tent. I hope to see lots of friends, old and new on Saturday, September 10 (which is a pretty important date in Dedham history- see my post of May 18, 2010 called “A Tragic Anniversary”).

1889 Dedham Directory Part 2

August 16, 2011

Reading through the 1889 Dedham Directory gives you a pretty good picture of life in Shiretown in the late 19th century. The population at the time was 6,641, including those living in West Dedham who would become residents of Westwood in 1897 when that town seceded. Dedham also had about twice the land area that it does now.

For a small town, it offered just about everything you needed for your home, your business, and your social life. All of the following products were produced in town in 1889: boots, cabinets, chocolate, carriages, cigars, dresses, harnesses, slippers, suspenders, soap, tools, watches, and whips. The directory lists 10 blacksmiths, 6 boarding houses, 5 hotels, 2 ice dealers, 17 grocers, 7 physicians and surgeons, 4 lawyers, 17 dressmakers and 1 dentist. Remarkably, this town of under 10,000 residents had 7 post offices! Almost all of these were located inside railroad depots or grocers.
The listing of residents includes occupations as well as addresses. In 1889, a great number of Dedhamites either worked in the mills or for the Old Colony Railroad.

Those are pretty big raisins! Walnut Hill was the name given to the area surrounding the intersection of High St. and Walnut St. in East Dedham.

Penniman Square was the name given to the intersection of Mt. Vernon St.and Auburn St. (Whiting Avenue)

1889 Dedham Directory

August 6, 2011

Here are a few ads from the 1889 Dedham Directory. The directory lists Dedham residents, businesses, town officers, and organizations. It also has a brief history of the town, and pages of these great ads.

Wardle’s is the oldest continuous business in Dedham. It opened in 1858 as B.F. Smith’s Apothecary, and was taken over by Harry L. Wardle in 1882.

Maybe the pianos are played by cows?

Talk about going out in style…

The Walley family still operates a business in Dedham, Walley Insurance on High Street. President Frank Walley III assures me that he doesn’t pay so much attention to interfering and overreaching anymore. At least not in his business.

Need a little “R and R?” Try jury duty…

May 10, 2011

The Millen Brothers/Abraham Faber murder/robbery trial was one of the most sensational criminal cases of the 1930’s, if not of the 20th century. The basic facts of the trial are related in my book and in shorter form in a post from last June entitled “An Execution in Charlestown.”

The trial of the three men accused of robbing a Needham bank and killing two policemen began in April, 1934, just a few months after the shocking crime. The jury was sequestered, and just as in the Sacco/Vanzetti trial the previous decade, they were lodged in the court house, sleeping on cots in one of the larger, unused court rooms. Their shower facilities were in the basement of the jail in which the accused were being held.

Perhaps the intensity of the trial testimony and the less than four-star accommodations prompted court officials to provide the men with a wide variety of leisure activities when the trial was not in session. These activities were recorded in some detail by Juror #11, foreman Ted Davis of Norwood, who had the “diary” privately printed after the trial was over. Along with the trip to Nauset Beach as described above and pictured below, other jury excursions and entertainments included:

* 3 Red Sox games and 1 Braves game
* A bus tour of the Mohawk Trail
* Taking in a polo match at the Dedham Polo Club
* Bowling, horseshoes, sing-alongs, long walks around Dedham
* Trips to Martha’s Vineyard, the Peabody Museum, Cohasset, Scituate and Plymouth

On June 9 the jury returned a verdict of guilty and, according to Davis’ diary “made for home as quickly as possible.” Jury Foreman Davis had an extra treat during his 2 month stint when he was allowed to see his new-born daughter in the hospital (accompanied by two Deputy Sheriffs) on May 29.

In the photographs below, Deputy Sheriff Norris Pinault (in white shirt) cavorts with jurors at Nauset Beach in Orleans. Thanks to Norris Shook, grandson of Deputy Pinault for providing me with the photos, the news article, and the diary kept by Ted Davis.

East Dedham Firehouse Tower…Gone With the Wind!

May 5, 2011

It was Hurricane Carol that took out the 80-foot bell tower, in dramatic and dangerous fashion on August 31, 1954. Lifted by a particularly strong gust, the tower tore loose from the building and sailed across the fire station, crashing into the house next door, where Mrs. Louise Guerrio was feeding her one year old son Joseph at the time. Miraculously, neither Mrs. Guerrio nor her son were hurt. A portion of the tower fell across Bussey St., crushing 3 cars and damaging the house at #219.

The steeple of the Old North Church and a WBZ radio tower were also toppled by the hurricane, which was more powerful and more devastating than the famous 1938 storm.

Here is a picture of the firehouse from the early twentieth century:

This is how I remember the firehouse looking when I was a kid:

Thanks to Firefighter Charlie Boncek for letting me use these images.

Where’d the tower go?

May 3, 2011

The firehouse on Bussey St. in East Dedham recently got a makeover, but even with its new siding it is clear that something seems to be missing on the right hand side. That something is the bell tower which can be seen in this drawing from a 1933 map of the town:

The question is… where’d the tower go?

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.

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.