Walter Folger Junior

I would like to draw your attention to one of Maria Mitchell’s relatives, Walter Folger Jr. A cousin to be exact. However, as Maria once said to someone when she/he told her they had met her cousin from Nantucket, “Which one? I have thousands.” Yes, pretty much everyone was related to everyone else.

Walter Folger was a scientist, inventor, lawyer, astronomer, statesman . . . pretty much sounds like William Mitchell, his cousin and friend. We have a few books in our collection that Folger gave to Maria. In any case, I was asked to narrate a video for the Nantucket Historical Association’s exhibition that opened in May, “Out of the Box: Unpacking Nantucket Stories” for which they have a telescope on display which Folger created. So, if you would like to learn a little more about Folger, clink this link:

And stay tuned. For Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday, I am working on a Maria Mitchell exhibit to be displayed at the Whaling Museum in 2018.



I have a MASSIVE sweet tooth. I am frankly not too discerning either. Chocolate is, of course, high on my list. One year when I was young, Santa Claus brought my Dad a small antique wooden box with a lock in it. It was FILLED with chocolate; in particular chocolate covered cherries, one of his most favorites, and Andes Mint Candies. The thing is, my Dad didn’t lock the box . . . My Mom still to this day takes fiendish delight in roasting me over the fact that she caught me leaving their room with my mouth stuffed with chocolates – think chipmunk. My Mom, “Jascin are you eating your Father’s chocolate?” A maybe six or eight year old me, “No, Mommy.” Think of that through the guise of chipmunk cheeks stuffed with chocolate that was also likely dribbling down my chin and out the corners of my mouth!

I definitely got the sweet tooth from my Dad – who got it from his grandfather also known as “Big Daddy” – a name my Dad gave him as a child. I won’t get started on Mama Minnie, Big Daddy’s wife and my great-grandmother. Yes, my Dad was from an Italian family in case you didn’t note my maiden name is Leonardo! But, I digress. My Dad and I would sometimes eat two desserts – you know an hour or so after the first one and at about 9PM. He would say, “I think there is some nice gelato in the freezer.” By that point, I was a woman in my 40s.

But I also think my sweet tooth – because I love pure sugar candy too like Smarties and my Dad did too – comes from my Other Other Nana (read great-great grandmother) who you see in this image. She came from Germany in the late 1800s. She spoke no English. She married a young man also from Germany whom she met in New York City. They were a town apart in Germany but never knew one another. They had a family and lived in Brooklyn where she ran a candy and confectionery shop that you see her standing in front of – Weed’s Ice Cream – which also sold tobacco. Go figure. She stands out front – note the dirt road even in Brooklyn about 1900 or so – with my Other Nana (the girl with the messy hair – guess I inherited that as well), Helen, her sister, Elsie, and their brother, John, as well as the family dog. Yes, we are still a dog family. So, I come from a family that ran a sweets shop! And later, my Other Nana would marry a man who was a pharmacist and what did you find in pharmacies in those days? Candy and ice cream!

So, while genes play a role in my sweet tooth, I think pure illustration or demonstration does too. My son, who is adopted, is already all about the ice cream after dinner like Big Daddy was. He is discerning however so maybe we will be in good shape. I would have loved to take him to the Sweet Shop here on island which is long gone – but he’s already been introduced to sitting at the pharmacy counter at Island Pharmacy and quick licking a cone from the Juice Bar!

You may ask, “Did Maria have a sweet tooth?” I have not seen anything in her journals that would lead me to that conclusion though you also have to remember that those were quite a bit more few and far between – a real indulgence then. Sweet shops and confectioners did pop up on the island; in fact there was a small one by the Atheneum but I believe later than when Maria was librarian there. Now, next time, ask me about Maria and beer.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

1873, July 21 Cambridge. We took an exceedingly hot day for a visit to Cambridge. . . . Cambridge is beautiful – but it has no trees except those in parks . . . One thing is certain, Girton College has sat itself down before the University of Cambridge in siege and the little woman Miss Davies has obtained a quiet power that is very effective . . .

This second European trip, Maria made in the summer of 19873 with her sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall, her husband Joshua, and their son William Mitchell Kendall. Girton was the first residential college for women in the United Kingdom and had opened just about four years before Maria visited. Davies was its founder. But coming from the second oldest women’s college in the United States, and with her lifelong push for women in education and also women’s equality, this was a must on her return trip to Europe. What I like best about her comment is that of Girton being plopped right in front of Cambridge as if thumbing – or perhaps really thumbing – its nose at a centuries old institution where only men could be educated. Cambridge did not formally allow women to receive degrees until 1947. By her comments, it seems to have pleased MM as well.

For more about Girton College, visit:

And – make sure you stop by the MMA tomorrow from 1-4PM where we will be celebrating Maria Mitchell’s 199th Birthday (and yes, we are gearing up for number 200!) with activities, period inspired music, a falconry demonstration, activities, and refreshments! All of our properties will be open for FREE. Everyone is welcome!


American Eclipse

Yes, it is coming. August 21st to be exact. Mark your calendar as the MMA will be hosting activities during the days before it and on the day as well. While we will not see a total solar eclipse, we will get a partial view – about 75% of the Sun will be “bitten” or covered in shadow.

There is of course much press surrounding this event. And, in June, David Baron’s book, American Eclipse, was released. This was something that was in the works for quite a few years – he first contacted me probably about five years ago concerning Maria Mitchell’s papers. It was great to see the final result after numerous contacts with David, questions, discussions, etc. Maria Mitchell viewed three solar eclipses in her life – the first being right here from 1 Vestal Street in 1831 when she was 12 ½ years old. She counted seconds for her father, William, which then allowed them to determine the exact longitude of the Mitchell House – 70.105 longitude. (The latitude is 41.281.)

David has already been interviewed on NPR (see our MMA Facebook page) and is making his book tour rounds – I am hoping he will come out to us next summer to celebrate Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday – Dava Sobel has said she would join us. Smithsonian Magazine also did an interview with David in the column “Small Talk” in its most recent issue. And thankfully, David corrected them on their maybe not entirely correct ideas about Maria and her influence on women in the sciences.

I am in the midst of reading the book. Maria Mitchell is one of about four astronomers who are featured so she plays a large role in his discussion of the eclipse of 1878. Maria travelled to Colorado to view the eclipse with her students – making a rather serous sensation – you know, all those ladies traveling out to the wild West by themselves with no men to protect them and traveling in open wagons and trains. Such horrors! (Well, at least that would have been the opinion in that period.)

So, to celebrate Maria – and of course the eclipse – check out American Eclipse.


What I Did On My Summer Internship

All of the interns at the Mitchell House has been very enthusiastic about learning the ropes of what happens in a historic house museum. I want them to have the full experience and tell them at the beginning, they do everything I do except clean the bathroom.

From conservation and accessioning of artifacts to research projects in the depths of the archives to teaching children’s history classes. They give tours to the public, help to host special events for both the Mitchell House and the MMA, develop small exhibits and special tours, work on other initiatives, and they get into some real serious cleaning projects among many other things.

Appropriate museum vacuuming is one such project – they all do it just as I do. However, I seem to have found a kindred spirit in the vacuuming department this time. While she has been working on a myriad of projects, including an in-depth research project on Mitchell family portraits in the Mitchell House, Sabrina was practically grinning from ear-to-ear about vacuuming. She LOVES it – probably because, in part with our HEPA museum vacuum that you wear on your back, she feels like a “ghostbuster.” I have never had an intern that was so enthusiastic about this task. I myself may not be vacuuming the Mitchell House until September – or else we may have to arm wrestle for who gets to vacuum!

Thank you, Sabrina!


Research Center Update

Lab sink area.

We can see more light at the end of the tunnel. The HVAC is almost complete and the painters have been through both of the main floor rooms. Cabinet faces have been painted and hung as well. Basement walls are being painted and the new Delta Designs state-of-the-art collections storage cabinets are being drawn up as I write this. The gas tank and lines have been installed. The carpenter is moving back in to put up the walls around the furnace room and to build the accessible bathroom and basement interior entryway. And, the cabinetmaker has completed installing all the supports for the countertops and the new microscope station. Even grass has returned to the side yard thanks to our landscaper.

And it is also again time to thank all those who have been working with us on this project – and also patiently waiting for their role to begin or re-start!

Greg Maskell Landscaping Matt Anderson, carpentry

Kevin Wiggin HVAC Jim Tyler and Crew, painting

Island Gas and Christian Yates Mickey Rowland, architect

Jim Badera and Badera Engineering Kevin O’Keefe, volunteering

Mike Freedman and Crew, cabinetmaker Pen Austin, mason and paint coatings

Jon Vollans and Vollans Electric Marden Plumbing

Wayne Morris, Mason Evita Caune, floor refinishing

Pioneer Cleaning, cleaning and floors David Ryan

Delta Designs Ltd. Toscana Corporation

Our neighbors on Vestal Street and Milk Street who have been patient with noise and people crawling all over the place!

And if I am missing anyone, I do apologize!


Microscope station.


A Few Things Remain

A few things remain that help to pass along “memories” that are not our own. These pieces – or artifacts as we call them in the museum world – help us to keep history alive and to learn from our past. Learning from our past helps us to understand where we have come from, to try and not repeat past mistakes, and to help us better prepare for our future by being armed with information and knowledge so that we can make good, informed decisions.

The pieces you see in the image at top are key chains and one key that remains from the Hawthorne Inn in Westport, Connecticut. They are for Rooms 8 and 16 – for rooms that no longer exist. The Inn was owned by my great-great grandmother, Lena Fike, a woman who arrived in New York City from Germany at the age of 18 with no English speaking ability. Years after she sold it, the Inn was torn down and made into a gas station and parking lot – sort of reminds me of the Jimmy Buffet song. It was a sort of paradise. It had a pond that was fed by five or six springs. It was so clean that supposedly my great-great grandfather made the children in the family, including my Nana, wash their feet BEFORE they went into it. It did serve as a watering hole for ducks so I am not so sure why they had to clean their feet if ducks fowled {sic.} it (pun intended) but nevertheless, you could drink freely from the fresh, cool water of the spring. No longer. And maybe the revenge of the springs and my family is the fact that the parking lot supposedly floods – probably the springs continuing to run but having no place to go, bubble up into the parking lot.

Lena Fike was a powerful woman – and note that I said she owned the Inn. It was all her – running the place. She had the help of her family – in particular my great grandmother (or Other Nana as I called her – the mother of my Nana. Follow the logic?) – her daughter, Helen Fike. Washing, lifting stacks of plates, dealing with visitors – all at a young age. The Inn remained under the Fike care and was well-known for many years. My Other Nana – who had a penchant for serious 1920s heels – once fell down the Inn stairs with my Nana in her arms. Neither was harmed unbelievably.

But, age set upon the Fikes and the Inn was unwillingly sold. I believe Lena Fike would not go near it while it was being sold, emptied, or even later. I think it hurt too much. They remained in Westport but she did not drive past it. Something I completely understand. I did not drive by the house my family lived in for twenty years – until about twenty years afterwards and it was a difficult thing that I forced myself to do.

Do you see what I mean by memories that are not our own? I intend to tell these stories to my son and my niece and nephew so that they can make them their own “memories” and can pass down the stories we have – and the keys and other small bits that are left. My son will become the holder of the key chains and the key to no room. He will also have the postcard image that you see here of the Inn. All of these are in my living room to serve as a way to honor my family and to serve as a reminder of them and where they came from and where they set me off to. Ironically, I, like Lena Fike, am in the hospitality business as I greet people every day at the Mitchell House for tours. I am also the “keeper” of what remains of the Mitchell family – the things and the “memories.”


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

June 21, 1883. I set out on the Mary Power on June 18th for Boston, got to N.Y. at 11a.m. and went on board the boat at once. I disliked my stateroom and decided to go by land as it stormed. I left N. Y. at 10:30 and worried half-sleeping through a hot night. I reached Kendall’s just as they were at breakfast. How glad I was to find them all well, and the same at the Dame’s and the Barney’s the next day.

Today I have been at the Bond’s to look at chronometers want one at $200 which has been tested and is only about 6 years old. Its rate is remarkably steady even when at sea. Also, I bo’t a mantle, a head dress and a fancy pink shawl . . .

As I have noted before, though born on an island, Maria did get seasick on occasion. I too – even though I have travelled between Hyannis or Woods Hole and Nantucket since I was 1 ½ years old – get sick as well in rough seas. Thus, I am not surprised she changed her mind. The rough seas added to her distaste for the stateroom that she would stare at for a day or so seasick. Why not go by land?! Upon reaching Boston, she arrived at the Kendall household – the home of her sister Phebe and her husband Joshua. The Dames and Barneys were family as well. Her oldest sister, Sally, had married Matthew Barney. With Sally now long deceased, this reference to the Barneys may be Maria’s nephew William Mitchell Barney, Sally’s son. And the Dames refers to Maria’s youngest sister, Kate, and her family who lived in Lynn, MA.

A trip to Boston was to see family but also to make purchases in a place that was slightly more familiar. A place where she knew the telescope and chronometer makers and had a relationship with them. A chronometer was a clock that could be taken to sea and not be affected by the roll of the ship – thus she notes how “remarkably steady” it is. Something that would be quite important for a chronometer.


She Floats!

On Saturday, June 3, 2017, Finger Boatworks launched a Haven 12 ½ christened Hijinks. This is the first boat that Finger Boatworks has built and the lionshare was completed by Tyler Winger. Finger Boatworks does of course have a connection to me – its owner is my husband, Eric, a former U. S. Coast Guard officer who is also a naval architect. Finger Boatworks (FBW) also maintains many island wooden boats and a few others as well. Currently, FBW is building an Alerion – a boat originally designed by the “Wizard of Bristol” – Nathanael Herreshoff – in the early twentieth century. Herreshoff designed the Alerion so that he could sail the boat himself – this in the day when they wore suit and tie, and hat of course! By then, Herreshoff was an older gentleman who had designed many boats.

Boat building on Nantucket is now few and far between. There are a few who have built for themselves, but very few who now build for specific clients or to sell. Boat building did happen historically on Nantucket. A large boatyard located in the area of Brant Point with a marine railway existed – even building a few whaleships. Whaleboats were also built on the island. In fact, in the early eighteenth century, they lifted the laws banning the cutting of trees on the island so that men could head out to Coatue to cut cedar for the whaleboats. The issue with building on Nantucket was that it was too expensive and boats could be built more easily and cheaply off-island since that is where all the wood to build island boats was coming from to start!

I like to think of Maria, and her brothers and sisters, wandering around the yards, picking up shavings, smelling the fragrance of wood shavings, specifically the cedar, and listening to the rhythmic noise of the saw. Just around the corner from them was a small boatshop – likely whaleboats – and up the street, a cooperage. The eldest Mitchell child, Andrew, would run off to sea at a young age and found himself on a naval ship during the Civil War. He later left the life of the sea and became a farmer – not the first time we had heard that one. He could have been greatly influenced by the boats surrounding him and the sailors and officers of whaleships and merchant and fishing ships. He could have also been influenced by his father with his rating of the chronometers and his work with the US Coast Survey. The Mitchell family had many ship captains through their front sitting room. He could have been influenced by spending his time in a boatshop. And, he could have been further influenced by the fact that his maternal grandfather, a whaleship captain, was lost at sea when Andrew’s mother, Lydia Coleman Mitchell, was just fourteen years old.

Boat building is an ancient craft. Whether it be small or something like a freighter, it is still a craft that we rely on for multiple purposes whether it be transportation, pleasure, livelihood, food.

Look for Hijinks in the harbor this summer.


We Are Open!

For the season! Come by for a tour. Come by to say hello. Come by to meet this year’s Mitchell House intern, Sabrina Smith, a 2017 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, who is already hard at work on several projects and eager to share. Come and check out the baby camlet and infant cap passed down through the Mitchell family since the 1700s and which was donated just last July.