Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train

Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service was held on April 19, 1865, after which the coffin was brought by procession to the Capitol Rotunda for a ceremonial burial service. The following morning, after a prayer service for the Lincoln cabinet, the coffin set off on a journey from Washington, DC, to Lincoln’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois, stopping at several cities along the way for ceremonies and public viewings.

Here is a historical marker which commemorates the stop in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Memorial Marker Mix-up

Keniston Square: Beverly, MassachusettsI took this photograph of the Keniston Square marker on Cabot Street in Beverly, Massachusetts, last spring, and posted it on Flickr with this comment: “I wish these markers had more information about who is being honored: especially a full name and a birth and death date.” Memorial square signs like this are a pet peeve of mine — it’s not much of a memorial if it only gives the last name and no other information. If the person died in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or more recent conflicts, there may be people around who knew him and still miss him and know that memorial sign is there, but for those who died in earlier wars, the sign may be disconnected from anyone’s personal memory. Without details, descendants and other family members may never know that it’s there.

Healey SquareIt turns out that Beverly city officials share my concern, and are making an effort to upgrade the markers with ones that are more informative. According to an article in the Salem Evening News, “Mike Collins, commissioner of public services and engineering, wanted to research the history of each veteran and tell their stories, some of which were missing or incomplete.”

One of the markers simply said “Healey Square.” Collins and Veterans’ Agent Jerry Guilebbe checked a memorial listing Beverly veterans killed in action and found a Joseph E. Healey who died in the Civil War. They made the logical but erroneous assumption that this was the Healey for whom the square was named. On Veterans Day, the city held a rededication ceremony, showing off the upgraded marker which includes the full name and date of death of Joseph E. Healey, Navy Seaman, killed in action in 1862. Joseph Healey’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who had been unaware that she had an ancestor who died in the Civil War, came down from New Hampshire for the event.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong Healey. Healey Square was dedicated in 1976 in honor of Frederick D. Healey Jr. Square, who served in three wars and was commended for his bravery under fire during the Korean War. The original marker his initials on it, but it was replaced in the 1990s with one like the Keniston marker, with only the last name. A little more research would have saved the city from some expense and embarrassment here, but as librarians and family history researchers both know, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’ve found the answer and moving ahead without adequate verification.

The best part of this story is the gracious response of Lois Healey, the widow of Frederick D. Healey, Jr. According the Salem News story, she called Collins a “lovely, lovely man” and said “There are no hard feelings on my end…It’s just a mistake that happened.” The city plans to replace the Healey Square sign with a new one properly honoring Frederick D. Healey, Jr., and to dedicate a square near where he lived to Civil War seaman Joseph E. Healey.

Equally gracious is Heather Wilkinson Rojo, the descendant of Joseph E. Healey who attended the dedication. She’s a respected genealogist and blogger who has written about this event in a positive and educational way, as an example of how we sometimes need to revise our family stories has new information becomes available that proves our earlier assumptions wrong.

The moral of the story is to check multiple sources and avoid confusing assumptions with facts. Also, document everything, and whether you’re creating historical markers or working with family photographs, be sure to provide enough information for others to follow: full names, places, dates, etc.

And when confronted with a mistake of your own or someone else’s, try to be as positive and gracious as everyone involved here seems to have been!


First Meetinghouse

First Meetinghouse

Site of the first meetinghouse built on the open green in 1640. The bell, hung in 1642, is said to have been brought from England by order of the Reverend William Worcester, who settled here in 1639.

I looked for this one before but despite its central location (that’s the Salisbury Public Library in the background on the left) this one is easy to miss. Many of these markers are missing, and others are in bad shape due to damage from cars, trucks, falling trees, construction, etc., but this one just seems to suffer neglect and from years of exposure to the elements.

RIP Jimmy Dean, 1928-2010

Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking tour of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington, DC. I really like these historical markers, which combine a map and text with photographs and other images from various time periods. This one shows Jimmy Dean on the accordion: “After World War II, Mount Pleasant enjoyed a brief heyday as a ‘hillbilly’ (country) music destination. Singer (and later sausage salesman) Jimmy Dean found fame hosting a local TV show, Town and Country Time, but Mount Pleasant knew him first as Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, the house band at the Starlite Restaurant….”

I’m sure a lot of younger people don’t know who Jimmy Dean was, confuse him with James Dean or only know the name as a sausage brand. But to me, Jimmy Dean means just one thing: “Big Bad John.”

Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Markers

Fairbanks HouseI have lived in Massachusetts most of my life, and I have always been aware of these distinctive historical markers. The first one I really remember was the one for the Fairbanks House in Dedham. We lived nearby and used to pass it all the time. Then I noticed others around occasionally when we went on Sunday drives. I never gave them much thought, though — I’ve always just thought of them as part of the landscape.

Then I started photographing them and putting them on Flickr, and it became a sort of game, trying to “collect” as many as I could find. They were put in place as part of in 1930, and although they’re sturdy, heavy signs made of iron, many have been lost over the years to storms, accidents, development and other causes. I have heard that some may have been melted down in a World War II iron drive, but no one really knows what happened to them all, or how many are left.

But we do know how many there were, where they were located and what they said, because the book Historical Markers Erected by Massachusetts Bay Colony is available from the Internet Archive. The book was published in 1930 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it’s an alphabetical list by community with the text and location of every marker, and includes a few photographs of the markers. It’s interesting reading these. It makes me wonder how the decisions were made on what places and events were selected for the markers.

John Rogers HomesteadThe text for the signs was revised and approved by historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, giving them a high degree of trustworthiness. However, at least one sign, the John Rogers Homestead, had an error. The text reads: “Near this spot stood the John Rogers homestead, which was destroyed in the Indian massacre of 1695, and the entire family killed.” However, the entire family was not killed, according to the 1816 An Historical Memoir of Billerica, in Massachusetts. This sign has the last phrase, “and the entire family killed” painted out. This is an interesting effect. The intent of the white paint to remove the text is clear, but the raised letters make it easy to read the original text. It’s much like strikeover text online…it makes the correction while preserving record of the error.

The Oldest House in CambridgeThe condition of the markers varies greatly. Some are in excellent condition, some are in good shape and show signs of repair and restoration, and some are in poor condition, like the Oldest House in Cambridge marker. MassHighway is responsible for maintenance, and this post on their blog, Historic Signs of a Job Well Done, shows a marker before and after restoration, and asks the public to report markers in need of attention.

The signs were erected in 1930 with the auto tourist in mind, and are placed so they can be read from the car. Most are easy to photograph, especially since they have two identical sides. I try both sides to get the best results in terms of both light and background.

I’m not the only one photographing these, of course. I started the Massachusetts Bay Colony Tercentenary Historical Markers group on Flickr, and others have posted some pictures there. There are also many of the signs photographed and documented on two of my favorite sites: the Historic Marker Database (Example: The Church in Salem Village) and the Waymarking site (Example: Macy-Colby House.)