Historical Society of Watertown, Watertown MA

Historical Society of Watertown, Watertown MA Built in 1772, the Edmund Fowle House is the second oldest surviving house in Watertown. At the beginning of the American Revolution. it served as headquarters for the executive branch of the Massachusetts government from June 1775 to September 1776.

The House museum is open for tours the 3rd Sunday of the month from 1pm - 4 pm. The last tour of the day is at 3:15pm. Tours are also available by appointment. The House museum is closed on the 3rd Sunday of the month during July and August, 2012


Did You Know?
Memorial Day and its traditions may have ancient roots.
While the first commemorative Memorial Day events weren’t held in the United States until the late 19th century, the practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones (including soldiers) each year, festooning their graves with flowers and holding public festivals and feasts in their honor. In Athens, public funerals for fallen soldiers were held after each battle, with the remains of the dead on display for public mourning before a funeral procession took them to their internment in the Kerameikos, one of the city’s most prestigious cemeteries. One of the first known public tributes to war dead was in 431 B.C., when the Athenian general and statesman Pericles delivered a funeral oration praising the sacrifice and valor of those killed in the Peloponnesian War—a speech that some have compared in tone to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

One of the earliest commemorations was organized by recently freed slaves.
As the Civil War neared its end, thousands of Union soldiers, held as prisoners of war, were herded into a series of hastily assembled camps in Charleston, South Carolina. Conditions at one camp, a former racetrack near the city’s Citadel, were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure, and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.

Three weeks after the Confederate surrender, an unusual procession entered the former camp: On May 1, 1865, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the Union dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The holiday’s “founder” had a long and distinguished career.
In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, though some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.
After the war Logan, who had served as a U.S. congressman before resigning to rejoin the army, returned to his political career, eventually serving in both the House and Senate and was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for vice president in 1884. When he died two years later, Logan’s body laid in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, making him one of just 33 people to have received the honor. Today, Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle and several townships across the country are named in honor of this champion of veterans and those killed in battle.

Logan probably adapted the idea from earlier events in the South.
Even before the war ended, women’s groups across much of the South were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate dead. In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year—a decision that seems to have influenced John Logan to follow suit, according to his own wife. However, southern commemorations were rarely held on one standard day, with observations differing by state and spread out across much of the spring and early summer. It’s a tradition that continues today: Nine southern states officially recognize a Confederate Memorial Day, with events held on Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday, the day on which General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was killed, or to commemorate other symbolic events.

It didn’t become a federal holiday until 1971.
American’s embraced the notion of “Decoration Day” immediately. That first year, more than 27 states held some sort of ceremony, with more than 5,000 people in attendance at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. By 1890, every former state of the Union had adopted it as an official holiday. But for more than 50 years, the holiday was used to commemorate those killed just in the Civil War, not in any other American conflict. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars, and Memorial Day was not officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s, with America deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War.

It was a long road from Decoration Day to an official Memorial Day.
Although the term Memorial Day was used beginning in the 1880s, the holiday was officially known as Decoration Day for more than a century, when it was changed by federal law. Four years later, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 finally went into effect, moving Memorial Day from its traditional observance on May 30 (regardless of the day of the week), to a set day—the last Monday in May. The move has not been without controversy, though. Veterans groups, concerned that more Americans associate the holiday with first long weekend of the summer and not its intended purpose to honor the nation’s war dead, continue to lobby for a return to the May 30 observances. For more than 20 years, their cause was championed by Hawaiian Senator—and decorated World War II veteran—Daniel Inouye, who until his 2012 death reintroduced legislation in support of the change at the start of every Congressional term.
More than 20 towns claim to be the holiday’s “birthplace”—but only one has federal recognition.
For almost as long as there’s been a holiday, there’s been a rivalry about who celebrated it first. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, bases its claim on an 1864 gathering of women to mourn those recently killed at Gettysburg. In Carbondale, Illinois, they’re certain that they were first, thanks to an 1866 parade led, in part, by John Logan who two years later would lead the charge for an official holiday. There are even two dueling Columbus challengers (one in Mississippi, the other in Georgia) who have battled it out for Memorial Day supremacy for decades. Only one town, however, has received the official seal of approval from the U.S. government. In 1966, 100 years after the town of Waterloo, New York, shuttered its businesses and took to the streets for the first of many continuous, community-wide celebrations, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation, recently passed by the U.S. Congress, declaring the tiny upstate village the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day.

Wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day began with a World War I poem.
In the spring of 1915, bright red flowers began poking through the battle-ravaged land across northern France and Flanders (northern Belgium). Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who served as a brigade surgeon for an Allied artillery unit, spotted a cluster of the poppies shortly after serving as a brigade surgeon during the bloody Second Battle of Ypres. The sight of the bright red flowers against the dreary backdrop of war inspired McCrae to pen the poem, "In Flanders Field," in which he gives voice to the soldiers who had been killed in battle and lay buried beneath the poppy-covered grounds. Later that year, a Georgia teacher and volunteer war worker named Moina Michael read the poem in Ladies' Home Journal and wrote her own poem, "We Shall Keep the Faith" to begin a campaign to make the poppy a symbol of tribute to all who died in war. The poppy remains a symbol of remembrance to this day.

Memorial Day traditions have evolved over the years.
Despite the increasing celebration of the holiday as a summer rite of passage, there are some formal rituals still on the books: The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff. And since 2000, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time. The federal government has also used the holiday to honor non-veterans—the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day 1922.


Daffodils in front of the Edmund Fowle House are like a ray of sunshine!

Historical Society of Watertown, Watertown MA's cover photo

Historical Society of Watertown, Watertown MA's cover photo


Article taken from the Historical Society of Watertown Town Crier January 2012
Watertown’s Flu Pandemic of 1918 The following story was written by David J. Russo, Historical Society Recording Secretary and Chair of the Watertown Historical Commission. This fall we’ve been reminded to get our annual flu shot. Our public health officials advise that the minimal inconvenience and pain of the shot is far better than the malady itself. As one who has had both a flu shot and the flu, I would heartily agree. It’s interesting to look back at the history of influenza and see the impact it has had on Watertown, especially the catastrophic pandemic flu of 1918 that killed 30 million around the world, at least 500,000 in the United States and many here in town. Watertown was geographically very close to where the first cases of flu developed in the United States: Commonwealth Pier in Boston on August 27, 1918. Returning troops from Europe during World War I carried the easily transmittable disease that had been raging through Europe. Symptoms included high fever, body aches, sore throat and general weakness. The onset of symptoms was horrifyingly fast: one to two hours to feel the full effects of the disease, followed by a severe case of pneumonia that many could not survive. Public health officials naively believed that we would be spared the devastating impact because we were “wellnourished” and had better sanitation standards than other places. And this was the basic problem. No one knew what caused the flu or how it spread. Without that knowledge, there was no way to adequately prepare for and manage the disease as a matter of public health. Flu is transmitted easily in the droplets of breath by a microscopic virus that wouldn’t be discovered for decades. The potential for it to run unchecked through the population was enormous. So there was Watertown, less than six miles from flu’s entry point to the United States, like a sitting duck. The first flu cases were reported in the Watertown Tribune-Enterprise, in late September. “. . . Influenza Takes Toll in Watertown,” the headline read on September 27, 1918, with reports about the disease affecting almost every household in town, hospitals filled to overcapacity and public gatherings of all kinds cancelled, including church services and classes in the local schools. The listing of names in the newspaper of those who succumbed also began and it would be a sobering reminder of the toll this disease would take. Unfortunately, again, the lack of basic knowledge about flu may have unwittingly helped transmit it. To avoid the disease the authorities urged “everyone to keep out of doors as much as possible to take advantage of the sunshine and to exercise.” Keeping active outside is probably a good thing for general health, but its effect on staving-off flu was limited. People were also encouraged to avoid crowded conditions, and coughing and sneezing around others (all correct observations) and “overeating” (an incorrect observation). Those taking care of others were encouraged to simply wear medical masks to provide important protection against the flu, which we now know was ineffective. And even if it somehow worked, securing the mask adequately on one’s face was difficult and the masks were uncomfortable to wear for any length of time. The following week, the paper reported that more than 1,000 people had contracted the flu and more than 30 died. Nonetheless, Watertown began to rally itself and numbers of volunteers and churches stepped forward to assist those too ill to take care of themselves and families. This was an important measure of success in the epidemic that many other communities could not match. We had volunteers who were willing to help. There was no treatment for the flu and doctors and nurses only managed symptoms. There was an enormous need for nonmedical help to cook, clean and help maintain households. Whole families were sometimes ill and unable to take care of themselves. The volunteers also helped to bury the dead. In any epidemic in which there is high mortality, the dead must be buried quickly and cannot be left in the streets or unattended in hospitals or homes. This avoids social break down at a critical point. Watertown again rose to the challenge when our gravediggers were too ill to work and the Selectmen offered the town laborers to help bury the dead. Gruesome work, surely, but we handled the work as a community. Even though conditions in Watertown were somewhat better than other places, public gatherings were still either cancelled or avoided by many. Perhaps the anxiousness the people felt about public gatherings was similar to ours immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Finally, by October 25, the epidemic had begun to wane and the bans on public gatherings had 6 been lifted. Schools, which had been closed for almost a full month, reopened. Nonetheless the deaths would continue over the next few months as weakened immune systems made people more susceptible to disease and to the pneumonia that often followed the flu. The number of dead was immense. In 1917, from September through December, there were 80 deaths reported in Watertown. In 1919, the number was 50; but in 1918 during the epidemic, the number was a staggering 203. Alarmingly, the highest proportion of the dead was among people aged 18-45. In 1918, the number of deaths between September and December for that group was 108, while in 1917 and 1919 it was 19 and 9 respectively. There were people behind these numbers. A particularly heart-wrenching death notice read, “Mrs. Maud Dailey, wife of Henry Dailey of Riverside Street, died on Thursday, her 13-year old daughter, Velina A. Dailey died yesterday. Mrs. Dailey was buried at Ridgelawn on Sunday and her daughter will be buried tomorrow.” It doesn’t get much worse than that. This disease was a killer of young people and the ranks of Watertown’s youth must have depreciated markedly. The loss to Watertown, not to mention the loss to individual families, must have been profound. Almost 100 years have passed since the pandemic flu of 1918. As we remember the devastating impact that the disease had here and around the world, the importance of factual medical information and community involvement should be highlighted as lessons for future generations.


Did You Know?
May Day is a May 1 celebration with a long and varied history, dating back millennia. Throughout the years, there have been many different events and festivities worldwide, most with the express purpose of welcoming in a change of season (spring in the Northern Hemisphere). In the 19th century, May Day took on a new meaning, as an International Workers’ Day grew out of the 19th-century labor movement for worker’s rights and an eight-hour workday in the United States. May Day 2020 is celebrated on May 1, 2020.
The Celts of the British Isles believed May 1 to be the most important day of the year, when the festival of Beltane was held.
This May Day festival was thought to divide the year in half, between the light and the dark. Symbolic fire was one of the main rituals of the festival, helping to celebrate the return of life and fertility to the world.
When the Romans took over the British Isles, they brought with them their five-day celebration known as Floralia, devoted to the worship of the goddess of flowers, Flora. Taking place between April 20 and May 2, the rituals of this celebration were eventually combined with Beltane.
Maypole Dance
Another popular tradition of May Day involves the maypole. While the exact origins of the maypole remain unknown, the annual traditions surrounding it can be traced back to medieval times, and some are still celebrated today.
Villagers would enter the woods to find a maypole that was set up for the day in small towns (or sometimes permanently in larger cities). The day’s festivities involved merriment, as people would dance around the pole clad with colorful streamers and ribbons.
Historians believe the first maypole dance originated as part of a fertility ritual, where the pole symbolized male fertility and baskets and wreaths symbolized female fertility.
The maypole never really took root in America, where May Day celebrations were discouraged by the Puritans. But other forms of celebrations did find their way to the New World.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, May Basket Day was celebrated across the country, where baskets were created with flowers, candies and other treats and hung on the doors of friends, neighbors and loved ones on May 1.
What does May Day have to do with the international distress call, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday"? Nothing, as it turns out. The code was invented in 1923 by an airport radio officer in London. Challenged to come up with a word that would be easily understood by pilots and ground staff in case of an emergency, Frederick Mockford coined the word "mayday" because it sounded like "m'aider," a shortened version of the French term for " come and help me."
International Workers’ Day
The connection between May Day and labor rights began in the United States. During the 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, thousands of men, women and children were dying every year from poor working conditions and long hours.
In an attempt to end these inhumane conditions, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which would later become the American Federation of Labor, or AFL) held a convention in Chicago in 1884. The FOTLU proclaimed “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.”
The following year the Knights of Labor—then America’s largest labor organization—backed the proclamation as both groups encouraged workers to strike and demonstrate.
On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers (40,000 in Chicago alone) from 13,000 business walked out of their jobs across the country. In the following days, more workers joined and the number of strikers grew to almost 100,000.
Haymarket Riot
Overall, the protests were peaceful, but that all changed on May 3 where Chicago police and workers clashed at the McCormick Reaper Works. The next day a rally was planned at Haymarket Square to protest the killing and wounding of several workers by the police.
The speaker, August Spies, was winding down when a group of officers arrived to disperse the crowd. As the police advanced, an individual who was never identified threw a bomb into their ranks. Chaos ensued, and at least seven police officers and eight civilians died as a result of the violence that day.
The Haymarket Riot, also known as the Haymarket Affair, set off a national wave of repression. In August 1886, eight men labeled as anarchists were convicted in a sensational and controversial trial despite there being no solid evidence linking the defendants to the bombing. The jury was considered to be biased, with ties to big business.
Seven of the convicted men received a death sentence, and the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In the end, four of the men were hanged, one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned six years later.
A few years after the Haymarket Riot and subsequent trials shocked the world, a newly formed coalition of socialist and labor parties in Europe called for a demonstration to honor the “Haymarket Martyrs.” In 1890, over 300,000 people protested at a May Day rally in London.
The workers’ history of May 1 was eventually embraced by many governments worldwide, not just those with socialist or communist influences.
May Day Today
Today, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but ironically it is rarely recognized in the country where it began, the United States of America.
After the 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland officially moved the U.S. celebration of Labor Day to the first Monday in September, intentionally severing ties with the international worker’s celebration for fear that it would build support for communism and other radical causes.
Dwight D. Eisenhower tried to reinvent May Day in 1958, further distancing the memories of the Haymarket Riot, by declaring May 1 to be “Law Day,” celebrating the place of law in the creation of the United States. May Day 2020 is on May 1, 2020.


28 Marshall St
Watertown, MA

Harvard Station to Watertown Square via Mt. Auburn Street - transit #71


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