The Harvard Bridge, Go Figure

The Harvard Bridge is one of the simplest and least adorned bridges over the Charles. It looks plain when compared to the Longfellow Bridge, which has the prows of Viking ships decorating its base, or the Anderson Bridge, with its entrance piers decorated with armor and mantling. The Harvard Bridge seems so anonymous that it is often called the wrong name and referred to as the MIT Bridge or the Mass. Ave Bridge. But the Harvard Bridge is great and its history is there for everyone to see, if they just look.

For one thing, the bridge is a lot older than one might guess. It was built in 1891, long before MIT moved to Cambridge and well before the land MIT sits on was reclaimed from the river through land fill. When the bridge was built, Cambridge and Boston were still highly industrialized and the Charles was an active shipping lane, so the bridge originally had a swing span section in the middle to allow large ships to pass through it.

Another thing that makes the Harvard Bridge cooler than you thought is that Houdini jumped off it, in chains. Houdini, in an effort to continue to outdo himself, shifted from escaping from handcuffs and chains onstage to escaping from jail cells to eventually staging dramatic escapes from perilous situations. One of his early dramatic public displays was in 1908 and involved jumping from the Harvard Bridge in manacles. To this day there is a plaque dedicating the bridge to the master of escape.

Many people know that the Harvard Bridge created new unit of measurement, the Smoot. In 1958 the bridge was measured in Smoots, by laying Oliver Smoot (MIT class of 1962) down and marking where he laid then picking him up and moving him one Smoot further down the bridge. (For the record, the Bridge is 364.4 Smoots long.) But did you know that the Smoot in question went on to regulate American measurements? Oliver Smoot went on to head the American National Standards Institute and later the International Organization for Standardization.

Harvard Square c. 1975

This c. 1975 postcard of Harvard Square was photographed by Alan Klein and produced by Klein Post Card Service. You can see the old MBTA headhouse, the old Out Of Town News Stand, and peaking out around the corner, the marquee of the Harvard Square Theater when it still faced out onto Mass. Ave. The theater was originally called the University Theater, but was renamed in 1961 and the entrance was shifted to Church Street in 1986.

Charlie Longfellow

Charlie Longfellow in 1865 CHS Image Collection 6.227.CHS
Charlie Longfellow was the son of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He enlisted in the Union Army in March of 1863 as an enlisted man in Battery A of the 1st Massachusetts Artillery, although his family connections soon led to him receive a commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Calvary. By June Charlie had seen little action, but became ill with Camp Fever, a general term for a variety of illnesses, including typhoid. He was taken from the front back to Massachusetts, where he recovered and rejoined his regiment in August. Seeing some real conflict in the next few months, his military career was cut short in November when he was shot. Although he did recover, he was discharged in February of 1864. By the end of 1864 he began traveling, a passion he would follow for the rest of his life, bringing him to India, Japan, and South America before he died in 1893.

MLK in Cambridge

Martin Luther King was in Cambridge a number of times. On April 23, 1967 he held a press conference in Cambridge to launch a campaign to end the war in Vietnam. According to a 1968 Harvard Crimson article recounting this visit, King said "It is time now, to meet the escalation of the war in Vietnam with an escalation of opposition. There can be no freedom without peace and no peace without justice."

Cambridge Roots of Gerrymandering

Did you know that the term Gerrymandering is named for Cambridge's own Elbridge Gerry? Gerry lived in the house built by the loyalist Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver that is today known as Elmwood (named by James Russell Lowell, this house has been the home of the President of Harvard since the early 1970s). Gerry was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation and later became the Governor of Massachusetts and the Vice President of the United States under Madison. The term Gerrymandering comes from an 1812 article in the Boston Gazette that discussed a bill signed by then Governor Gerry that redistricted Massachusetts Senate Election Districts into a contorted district, the article suggested had the shape of a salamander.

First Printer

In case you were wondering about the meaning behind the name “First Printer,” a restaurant on Dunster Street in Harvard Square, there’s a very good explanation.  The first printing press in the British North America arrived in Cambridge, along with Reverend Joseph Glover, his family, and possessions, in 1638.  As was often the case back then during long, trans-Atlantic voyages, Joseph died aboard the John of London and did not reach the Colonies.

Upon arrival in Cambridge, Stephen Daye, a locksmith by trade, who came from England with the Reverend’s family, set up the printing shop.  He was under financial contract to repay the Glovers in exchange for his voyage to America.  Daye used the press to carry on Joseph Glover’s mission in the New World and set to work printing religious texts.  

Although the Spanish have set up the very first North American press in Mexico City in 1539 and printed leaflets, the Daye press became the first on the continent to produce a book – The Bay Psalm Book, followed by The Freeman’s Oath and an almanac for 1639.

Out of the 1700 original copies of The Bay Psalm Book, 11 are in existence today.  They are scattered throughout Ivy League schools’ libraries and rare book collections.  Five by seven and a half inches in size and containing 300 pages, it is an impressive achievement for such an early press.  The Bay Psalm Book went through several editions and, for over a century served as a principal prayer book in Protestant churches in the Colonies.

Harvard’s first president, Reverend Henry Dunster, thought that a printing press would be very useful for his new college, and so Elizabeth Glover did not stay a widow for long.  The two were married in 1641, combining all of their possessions, and the printing press made another trip to its new residence on the street that now carries Dunster’s name. 

After Elizabeth died only two years later, the printing press officially became the property of Harvard College, then still a small seminary.  That same year, Matthew, Stephen Daye’s son who previously worked as an apprentice, took over the printing business.  Harvard became home to the second printing press as well.  It was sent over from England in 1659, along with a professional printer, and became known for printing the Bible in the Algonkian Indian language.

The antiquated Daye press was brought to Westminster, Vermont in 1781 and continued to play an important role.  The colonists of Vermont used the press to produce The Vermont Gazette, a patriotic publication that inspired Colonists during the Revolutionary War.  Vermont was the final stop for the Daye Press and this is where it remains today, a historical artifact and the physical embodiment of ideas and hope of the first American generations.

The Daye printing press played a remarkable role in the Colonies.  Virtually surrounded by wilderness, these small New England communities relied on the printed word to work together in creating a whole new kind of a society, governed by the principles of Protestantism and democracy.

In the age of internet, as information is delivered to our screens at lightning-fast speed, we have the luxury of choosing from an unprecedented variety of media, from print publications, to internet and TV.  We have access to magazines, newspapers, and novels, on devices ranging from Kindle to smartphones.  And it is now hard to imagine a world where the only reading material was religious text printed on one wooden press.

Alfreno, the high wire performer

101 years ago... The Cambridge Industrial Carnival was keeping Central Square on its toes:
THE OUT-DOOR SHOWS
The leading out-door attraction has been given by Alfreno, a high-wire performer, who has thrilled thousands, afternoon and evenings, as he did hair-raising stunts on a wire strung across Massachusetts avenue, in front of carnival headquarters. Attired in a female costume, Alfreno emerges from a window, and with the aid of a long pole carefully walks out to the middle of the street, where he proceeds to entertain. His disrobing creates roars of laughter, and after he has removed everything down to his tights, he performs on the wire. Some of his feats are, lying on the wire, balancing his body across the wire without the use of his arms or hands, and walking on the wire with his head enclosed in a cloth sack.

From the Cambridge Chronicle October 14, 1911.

Cambridge Industrial Carnival

A few months ago we were contacted by a Facebook fan who asked us if we knew anything about this banner from the Cambridge Industrial Carnival. We said we would look into it and we’d love to see the original. The fan generously donated it. With a little research we discovered that, 101 years ago today, the Industrial Carnival was all the rage. On October 14, 1911, the Cambridge Chronicle wrote:

“CAMBRIDGE INDUSTRIAL CARNIVAL HAS BEEN GREAT ATTRACTION
Immense Crowds Have Witnessed the Free Shows That Have Been Given Afternoons and Evenings Since Monday, and the Exhibition at the Armory Has Been an Unqualified Success—The Affair Comes to an End Tonight
 

The Industrial Carnival and Manufacturers' exhibit has held the attention of thousand, of people this week, and nothing like it has ever been seen in Cambridge before. Not only has about everybody in Cambridge been entertained at practically no expense, but the varied attractions have drawn many thousands of people from outside.
 

The out-door shows have served to attract crowds of people to Massachusetts avenue, between Central and Lafayette square so that traffic has had to be diverted in the side streets, and the electric cars have been compelled to stop during the exhibition
 

The Brockton fair, Revere beach or Coney Island have had nothing on Cambridge this week when it comes to compare their attraction to those which have been shown on the avenue.
In addition to the free shows given by the carnival committee, the avenue has been lined with fakirs of all kinds, who have plied their trade with their usual skill, and it is safe to say that many a dollar has been taken from the innocent by their attractive outfits and alluring promises.”

McAdoo Milk Cap

This old milk cap was just donated to CHS. McAdoo Milk was located at 52 Clay Street and distributed milk to many homes in Cambridge. Jean McAdoo wrote a story for Growing Up In North Cambridge in which she talked about what it was like for her husband, Bill, to grow up on Green Acres Farm (AKA McAdoo Milk) in North Cambridge. Apparently, Bill is the child on the bottle cap and worked for Green Acres for years. He drove up to farms in Vermont to collect milk and brought it back to Clay Street where it was pasteurized, bottled and distributed. He later fought in WWII and worked for the CIA. He eventually ended up back in Cambridge with a law office in Porter Square, William A. McAdoo, Jr. and William Corkery, Attorneys At Law.

McAdoo Milk Cap

This old milk cap was just donated to CHS. McAdoo Milk was located at 52 Clay Street and distributed milk to many homes in Cambridge. Jean McAdoo wrote a story for Growing Up In North Cambridge in which she talked about what it was like for her husband, Bill, to grow up on Green Acres Farm (AKA McAdoo Milk) in North Cambridge. Apparently, Bill is the child on the bottle cap and worked for Green Acres for years. He drove up to farms in Vermont to collect milk and brought it back to Clay Street where it was pasteurized, bottled and distributed. He later fought in WWII and worked for the CIA. He eventually ended up back in Cambridge with a law office in Porter Square, William A. McAdoo, Jr. and William Corkery, Attorneys At Law.