Thursday, May 10, 2012

Brown University Memorials - Two Wars

University Hall at Brown University
University Hall.  Plaque is located at lower left.
In two buildings adjacent to each other on the Brown University campus are memorials to Brown students, alumni, and faculty who participated in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

The Revolutionary War plaque hangs on the back wall of University Hall and reads as follows:

The Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution commemorates by this tablet the occupation of this building by the patriot forces, and their French allies, during the Revolutionary War.  For six years all academic exercises in this university were suspended.  Faculty, students, and graduates, almost to a man, were engaged in the service of their country.  May all who read this inscription be stimulated by their example to respond as loyally to their country's call.::::::::::::::::::::::"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." Erected 1897

Revolutionary War Plaque on University Hall
The Latin quote is from Horace, and can be translated as:  "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."

I was most impressed by the idea that Brown, which had only been founded in 1764, shut down during the War because most of the students and faculty (and the alumni, who were all still under 30) were otherwise engaged.  Hard to imagine this happening today!

Worth noting that the architect for University Hall was a member of the Brown family--Joseph Brown.  He also designed the John Brown House, the Joseph Brown House, the First Baptist Church, and Market House by the river.

Manning Hall at Brown University
Manning Hall; University Hall is to the right.

Civil War Tablet in Manning Hall
Civil War tablet.
The Civil War tablet hangs inside the back entry at Manning Hall, a beautiful Greek Revival building completed in 1834.  It was paid for by another member of the Brown family, Nicholas Brown, and is an exact model (though 2X the size) of the Temple of Diana-Propylea in Eleusis.  At Nicholas Brown's request, it was named for Brown's first president, James Manning, who was president before, during, and after the Revolution.

The tablet contains a Latin inscription which, loosely translated, means that it was dedicated by Brown students to their brothers who sacrificed their lives on behalf of liberty and the union of the Republic in the Civil War.

Among the alumni and students memorialized here are:

  • Major Sullivan Ballou '52, whose letter to his wife before the First Battle of Bull Run (in which he died) was famously read in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary.  Major Ballou is buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence; click here to read my previous post on this topic.
  • Commander Thomas Poynton Ives '54, a grandson of Nicholas Brown. Ives died of pulmonary disease in November, 1865, only a month after he was married, while on leave from the military.  Commander Ives had been captain of The Picket, General Burnside's flagship, during the capture of Roanoke in February, 1862; also on board was Rush Hawkins then a Colonel (click here to read my post about Rush Hawkins and his wife, Annmary Brown)
  • Private Eugene Sanger '64 who served with the 38th Massachusetts volunteers, and died of wounds received in action at Fort Bisland, Louisiana, April 12, 1863.
  • Lieutenant James Peck Brown '67, who had spent only a few months of his freshman year at Brown before taking a commission in the Army, and who died of "congestive chills" in August, 1865, while still on duty in Louisiana.

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of Manning Chapel from Wikipedia Commons, by Chen Si Yuan.

All other photos by author.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cherry & Webb, Gladdings, and Shepard

The Tri-Store Bridge: Cherry & Webb, Gladdings, Shepard
I walked by this alley off Westminster Street in Providence last week, and spied "The Tri-Store Bridge".  Seeing these logos brought me back to my childhood, and shopping in these large and well-known department stores with my mother (with a snack or lunch--maybe chicken croquettes!--at Shepard's Tea Room).

The bridge was built shortly before 1900, and allowed the ladies who shopped to move from one store to another without having to step outside into the rain, snow, or mud.

Gladdings was the oldest of the three stores--it started in Providence in 1766 under a different name (using a bunch of grapes as its trade sign), but was sold to Watson & Gladding in 1807.  Watson left the business in 1815.  The store was originally located at 6 Cheapside (now North Main Street) but moved to 93 Westminster in 1878, and to this location at 291 Westminster in 1891, where it continued to use the bunch of grapes sign. Gladdings declared bankruptcy in 1972; the building is now used by Johnson & Wales University.  According to the Rhode Island Historical Society, the use of the bunch of grapes sign by Gladdings and its precursor owners constitutes the longest use of a trade sign in American history.

Shepard opened in 1880 at this location (corner of Westminster and Clemence) and was the largest of the 3 stores.  It went bankrupt in 1974, and the beautiful historic building is now used by the University of Rhode Island.

Cherry & Webb was a Massachusetts chain, founded in 1888, that went bankrupt in 2000.

Interestingly enough, this alley served as one of the filming sites for an episode in the first season of Body of Proof.  The show is set in Philadelphia, but it was filmed in Providence the first year, and in Southern California after that.  When they shot this scene with all these logos visible, it seemed to me that someone on the production team wasn't being very careful about not giving away the location!

Illustration Credits and References

Photo by author.

For more information see:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Official State Whatever

When I lived in New Mexico, I thought it was humorous that New Mexico had "official state neckwear"--the bolo tie.  (Read my 2007 blog post on this subject here.)

But in today's Providence Journal I read that Rhode Island also has a number of unusual official state items including the official state shell (quahaug) and the official state drink (coffee milk).

quahaug shell
The quahaug (which comes from the Narragansett Indian word "poquauhock") is a large Atlantic hard-shell clam; smaller cousins are known as cherrystones, even smaller ones as littlenecks. The Narragansetts made beads from quahaug shells that were used as money, leading the Anglos to give the Latin name Mercenaria mercenaria (derived from the Latin word for wages) to the clam.

Rhode Island supplies a large percentage of the US commercial quahaug catch--about 3.5 million pounds per year. So it's not surprising that the RI Legislature named the quahaug the official state shell in 1987.

stuffie, or stuffed clam
 If you've eaten clams in Rhode Island, you probably know that the local name for stuffed quahaugs is "stuffies", and like meatloaf or turkey stuffing, everyone has their own recipe. You can find one on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary blog referenced at the end of this post.

Eclipse Syrup
The coffee milk story is a bit more complicated. Coffee milk has been a popular beverage in southern New England since the early 20th century--possibly derived from Italian immigrants' recipes, and translated to a drugstore and diner blend in the 1920s and 1930s.  Eclipse introduced a retail package of the syrup in 1938 ("You smack your lips if it's Eclipse") and its competitor Autocrat came out with their own product in the early 1940s.  The two companies competed head to head until Eclipse's parent company was bought by a British conglomerate that wanted out of the coffee syrup business--and Autocrat took the opportunity to buy up the Eclipse brand name and secret recipe in 1991. Both Eclipse and Autocrat syrups are still available today and have their own loyal followings. Caffeine and sugar--what's not to like?

Coffee milk (made with milk and coffee syrup) seems to be a product that's virtually unknown outside of southern New England (and maybe a little of New Hampshire). And Rhode Islanders drink more of the concoction than anyone else. (Rhode Islanders also eat more coffee ice cream--it's second only to vanilla in  popularity.)

Coffee milk was named the official state drink in 1993, shortly after Autocrat acquired Eclipse, although the proposal in the Legislature did get some spirited opposition from the Representative from Middletown, who also happened to own a Del's Lemonade franchise (another popular Rhode Island beverage!).

And if you combine coffee milk and ice cream, you get a coffee cabinet--another term used exclusively in Rhode Island.

Illustrations and References

The photos of the coffee milk in a glass and the Eclipse syrup bottle were found on the What's Cooking in America website.

The quahaug photo comes from the Proper Course blog; the post is entitled "Quahaug".

The photo of the stuffed clams (or "stuffies") appeared in the Cutting Edge of Ordinary blog, in a post entitled "Stuffies".

Factual information for this post comes from a post entitled "Coffee Milk" on the website, and from the Rhode Island Sea Grant Fact Sheet on the quahaug.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Transit of Venus

Transit and Benefit Street sign
Contrary to what you might think, Transit Street in Providence is NOT named after a public transportation system, or because it is a route from one place to another. It is so called because in June 1769 an astronomical phenomenon known as the Transit of Venus occurred. It was observed by scientists all over the world--including a Providence, Rhode Island contingent. They planned an observation platform and equipment installation on the crest of College Hill, 100 feet east of Benefit Street near the southern end of Thayer Street, not far from what is now Transit Street. They spent months ordering equipment from England, and planning, designing, and constructing the necessary facilities.

So what is the Transit of Venus? It describes the visible passage of the planet Venus between the earth and the sun. It occurs in a pattern where there are two December observations 8 years apart, followed some years later by two June observations 8 years apart. There are 243 years between one June observation pair and the next, and the same between each December observation pair. So, for example, a December pair occurred in December 1631 and December 1639.  A June pair occurred in June 1761 and June 1769.  The next observations were in December 1874 and 1882, followed by the current pair in June 2004 and June 2012.

Portrait of Benjamin West
Portrait of Benjamin West in later life
Benjamin West, a self-taught astronomer from Rehoboth, Massachusetts, documented the Providence group's efforts in his Account of the Observation of Venus Upon the Sun, The Third Day of June, 1769, at Providence, in New-England, With some Account of the Use of Those Observations. Other noted local participants included Joseph Brown and his brother Moses, Gov. Stephen Hopkins, and Dr. Jabez Bowen.

Telescope used for the observation of the Transit of Venus in 1769
The telescope used in the observation
Except for Hopkins, who'd already served nine terms as Governor of the Colony, and was in his sixties, the rest were young--in their thirties. And reading West's document, you can feel the excitement and enthusiasm of the group through the stilted 18th-century language. West describes the arrival from England, a month before the Transit, of a "three feet reflecting telescope" along with "a curious helioscope, together with a micrometer of a new and elegant construction." The group also had a "sextant belonging to the government" which had been made in Newport, and "two good clocks, one of which was made in Providence, by Mr. Edward Spalding."  They had no documentation on how to use the micrometer, so they had "recourse to experiments." "These experiments were repeated every fair day . . . till we could many times going find the diameter of a body to a second of a degree."  They hoped to be part of the worldwide effort to determine the scale of the solar system (and also to determine/verify the latitude of Providence).

They were also very concerned with the regulation of their clocks, and to do this they hired artisans who "were employed in laying a platform, of seasoned pine plank, as smooth and level as art could make it."  They examined the platform three times a day "with a very long level, made for that purpose, in order to keep its position from altering."  On one side of the platform they built a 10-foot stile into which they "fixed the glass of a scioptic ball" which would allow the sun's rays to be transmitted onto the platform.  They then drew "a great number" of concentric circles in order to trace a meridian line.  "Notice was given beforehand to the people (whose curiosity was excited by the preparations) that on the day before the transit, when the Sun came on the meridian, a cannon would be fired, which being done, most of the inhabitants marked meridian lines in their windows, or on their floors."

They also used the sextant and reflector for several days before and after the transit to "ascertain the going of the clocks. . . . We found, upon the whole, a surprizing agreement in these two methods of regulating clocks; they were seldom found to differ a single second."

June 3 dawned bright and clear, and the colleagues gathered at the site early so as not to miss the observation. Florence Parker Simister, in her Streets of the City: An Anecdotal History of Providence, wrote:  "Crowds of curious spectators, and those interested in scientific matters, gathered at the observatory, while Governor Stephen Hopkins, Dr. Benjamin West, and Joseph Brown looked through their instruments and made their calculations."  Records show that the transit started a little after 3 p.m., and West, Brown, et al took measurements until the last rays of the sun disappeared.

In today's hectic and electronics-fueled world, it's hard to imagine the enormous interest of the community in this endeavor.  But the citizens of Providence were clearly impressed, naming not only Transit Street in honor of the occasion, but also the nearby Planet Street.


Benjamin West would receive honorary degrees from Harvard and Brown (then known as The College of Rhode Island) the year after the Transit.  After the war, he would become a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Brown.

Joseph Brown, in addition to his scientific interests, was also an architect, and in the years to come would design many of the 18th century buildings that still survive in Providence, including the John Brown House, the Joseph Brown House, Market House on North Main Street, University Hall at Brown University, and the First Baptist Church on Benefit Street.

Moses Brown later co-founded Slater Mill in Pawtucket in 1790.  This was the first water-powered spinning mill in America and signaled the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution.  He also founded what is now known as the Moses Brown School in Providence, introduced smallpox vaccine to Rhode Island, and was a founding member of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Jabez Bowen became Deputy Governor of Rhode Island, and was named Chief Justice of the RI Supreme Court in 1781.

Stephen Hopkins would go on to be one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Illustration Credits

The photo of the Transit and Benefit Street signs was found on the Coalition for Transportation Choices website.

The portrait of Benjamin West is in the Brown University portrait collection, and hangs in the John Hay Library.  The image was found on the Brown University website.

The photograph of the telescope also comes from the Brown University website; the telescope is also displayed at Brown.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Brown Sisters: Annmary and Carrie

Two men who might otherwise have never met each other--one a New York politician and military man, the other an Italian count and diplomat--erected structures on the Brown University campus in the first decade of the 20th century to honor the women they loved, wed, and lost. But they did meet each other, in fact became brothers-in-law, because the two women happened to be sisters, Annmary and Caroline (Carrie) Brown. They were granddaughters of Nicholas Brown, Jr., who had given the university (then known as the College of Rhode Island) $5,000 and his name in 1804.

Carrie Tower, Brown University
Carrie Tower
The two buildings, a tower and a mausoleum, tell love stories--not only of the two couples, but of the two sisters for one another. Their intertwining relationships have an almost operatic quality--with fragile-healthed women, European nobility, international diplomacy, war, doomed love, and settings in Paris, Rome, Geneva, St. Petersburg, and the American South.

Annmary Brown Memorial, Brown University
Annmary Brown Memorial

Portrait of Carrie Brown and Annmary Brown as Teenagers
Annmary and Carrie Brown as teenagers
The two girls were the daughters of Nicholas Brown III of Providence and Caroline Mathilde Clements of Dover, New Hampshire. The family lived in Tappan, NY, but in 1845, when Annmary was eight and Carrie four, President Polk appointed their father as US Consul-General in Rome, and the family moved abroad. Annmary and Carrie were first educated in convents in Rome and Geneva. After Annmary graduated from Madame Arlaud's School in Geneva in 1854, the family moved back to Rhode Island, where they kept a city home in Providence and a summer home called Choppequonsett on Narragansett Bay.

It was at Choppequonsett that Annmary, who was already suffering from the respiratory ailments that would plague her throughout her life, married Rush Hawkins of New York City in the summer of 1860. Before they had been married a year, he would form the Hawkins Zouaves and spend the next four years leading his troops in the Civil War.

General Rush Hawkins
General Rush Hawkins
During Rush's absence, Carrie was Annmary's companion and caretaker, and the sisters grew even closer. After the war was over, General Hawkins and Annmary spent their winters in South Carolina, California, and Florida, and they also traveled abroad extensively.

By this time, Carrie was in her thirties, and seemed resigned to life as a spinster. But things changed dramatically when Paul Bajnotti, an Italian count and diplomat, showed up in Rhode Island in 1875 and swept her off her feet. Carrie and Paul were also wed at "Choppe", and in the years to follow, the Bajnottis would accept diplomatic postings to Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Rush and Annmary would search for a cure for Annmary all over the world--Nice, Charleston, Paris, Cairo--always hoping that new techniques or warmer temperatures would alleviate the catarrah, bronchitis, and lung congestion that sent her to bed for weeks at a time.

The two couples got together in Europe whenever possible--each man was genuinely fond of his wife's  sister, and since there were no children, the four became a close-knit family.
Carrie Brown Bajnotti
Carrie Brown Bajnotti

Given Annmary's respiratory history, it is surprising that Carrie was the first to die; she contracted the flu, and died in Palermo in 1893, after her illness escalated to pneumonia. Hawkins wrote that Paul was "sorrowing and heart-broken", and was determined to memorialize his wife in her hometown of Providence. After an extensive competition he selected architect Guy Lowell to design the clock tower known as Carrie Tower. (Lowell would later design the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.) The tower was built in 1904 on the Brown campus, just within the wrought iron fence that demarcates the front campus, at the corner of Prospect and Waterman Streets. "Love is Strong as Death" is inscribed on the foundation. Carrie herself was buried at the English cemetery in Rome.

Inscription on Carrie Tower
The inscription on Carrie Tower

Annmary Brown Hawkins
Annmary Brown Hawkins
In 1903, 10 years after Carrie's death, Annmary also developed pneumonia and died after a brief illness. "No words at my command are equal to the expression of my desolation and loneliness," wrote Hawkins. "The present is without joy, and the future a dreary anticipation."

Possibly inspired by the planned memorial to Carrie, Hawkins hired the Rhode Island architect Norman Isham to design a mausoleum and museum at 21 Brown Street. Hawkins had an extensive book collection, and the building, which was completed in 1907, was designed to serve as a memorial to Annmary, the final resting place for the couple, and a museum for his books, paintings, Civil War relics, and other personal collections.

An inscription on the marble floor slab that marks Annmary's burial reads:  "Like some rare flower entombed in its beauty, shedding everlasting."

Annmary Brown Hawkins tomb with fresh flowers
Annmary Brown tomb with fresh flowers

Count Bajnotti also erected a fountain in Carrie's memory in Burnside Park in Providence, designed and built between 1898-1902. He died in 1919 in Turin, Italy. 

General Hawkins died one year later, when he was hit by a car on Fifth Avenue in NYC.  Every year until his death, he placed fresh flowers on Annmary's tomb on her birthday (March 9), flowers which were left to wither until the following year (thus matching the inscription there). Hawkins left money in his will so that this practice could be continued, and it does to this day.

In 1948, the Annmary Brown Memorial was transferred to the ownership of Brown University, and today it houses the Medieval Studies Department, as well as collections of toys, swords, art, and furniture. General Hawkins' books, which included a collection of 225 books from 130 of the 238 fifteenth-century presses, were moved to the John Hay Library in 1990. Hawkins' Civil War collection has been in the news recently--Brown is suing collector Donald Thorpe for the return of a silver sword presented to General Hawkins in 1863; the University claims it was stolen from the Annmary Brown Memorial in the 1970s.

In the 1950s, the clocks on Carrie Tower began to run erratically--it was determined that an essential mechanism had been removed as part of a prank. Today the clocks do not move-they are set at 12.   

Illustration Credits and References

Descriptions of both women are on the Find a Grave website; find Carrie and Annmary.

Some story elements were adapted from a paper written by Blair Hickman for a course in Nonfiction Writing at Brown in 2006; while plagued with sloppy editing on dates and ages, the paper is infused with information from two tribute volumes by Rush Hawkins which can be found in the Brown Archives, and which I did not pursue. The quotes from Rush Hawkins in this post come from the Hickman paper.

The portraits of Annmary and Carrie, as well as various bits of information about them, were found on several Brown University web pages, including their Portrait Collection pages and Encyclopedia Brunonia.

The portrait of Rush Hawkins was found in an article entitled "The Joy of Collecting Civil War Era Newspapers" on the Fine Art Registry website.

The exterior photos of the tower and mausoleum were taken by the author in February, 2012. The tombstone photograph was taken by the author on March 9th, 2012, and posted to this blog on that date.