Marblehead and Other Matters | Newberry

Marblehead and Other Matters

There are, apparently, boys in Marblehead, Massachusetts. I hope this relieves your concern about that matter.

I cannot check this statement for accuracy, not having been to Marblehead. I get my information from a miniature encyclopedia known as the Inter Ocean Curiosity Shop for 1886. The Chicago Inter Ocean published an annual Curiosity Shop volume from 1877 at least through the 1890s, and tried to fill it with information. Or perhaps they did not. Perhaps credit should be given to the readers of the newspaper.

Once upon a time, newspaper editors knew everything. (Unless their paper served a political party you were opposed to, of course: then they knew nothing.) The Inter Ocean ran a column called The Curiosity Shop to which readers wrote for information on any topic that was rousing curiosity. There was no Wikipedia, and it would have been hard to call up on the wood-burning computers of those days, and there were only a few traveling encyclopedia salesmen. So the Inter Ocean was filling a great public need.

Anyhow, it says it was. I do not hail from 1886–in spite of everything my coworkers might claim–and perhaps there really WAS a George W. Callihan in Danleytown, Kentucky who wrote to the paper requesting “Give a sketch of Alexander Hamilton.” Or maybe–just maybe, I say, the Thomas C. MacMillan who edited the column felt like writing about Alexander Hamilton one day. Not that I know anything about columnists who pretend they’ve been asked a question just to have something to write about. That’s probably just idle gossip.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful collection of information, whether readers were writing in from Kentucky to ask for it or not. You can read brief histories of individual Civil War regiments (or The War for the Union, as they prefer to call it…when they aren’t calling it the War of the Rebellion) or you can read about the manufacture of fire-crackers. You can consider the lives of popular actresses or the careers of false prophets of the seventeenth century. You can consider why the sea is salty, why Marblehead is known as “the town without boys”, and whether David R. Atchison was President of the United States for one day. (Nonsense, says the Inter Ocean.) You will learn about the history of Christmas cards (which had been around for only about twenty-five years at that point) and learn how a game called foot-ball is played. (Mr. MacMillan gives the rules from a British rulebook of 1863, so he is talking about That Other Football. He suggests if you want more current information, you can ask “a college lad.”)

There are NOT a lot of questions about Chicago: the city gets just three entries in the index, the same number of entries allotted to chicory. I suspect this is because Mr. Thomas C. MacMillan, A.M. was a better writer than an indexer. If you want to know, for example, where the Washingtonian Home is in Chicago, you will need to look that up under Washingtonian Home, because it will not be found under the name of the city. (The Washingtonian Home had something to do with the Knights Templar lodge.) The index, besides being in even tinier print than the text of this little volume, does a lot of things like that. I would never have learned the sad fate of the stone Pope Pius IX sent to be included in the Washington Monument if I had looked up Pope Pius. The story can be found only by looking up the Washington Monument (which is nowhere near the Washingtonian Home.)

But you can always read the book from start to finish, on the way learning about imitation ivory, the May Laws, the Canadian Fishery Award, Queen Victoria’s annual salary, and the very last battle of the Slavery War (how many different names did that war have, anyhow? Mr. MacMillan’s not around to ask.)

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