A Time Gone By

Do you know where this is?  It seems to have recently been repainted and “cleaned” up a bit which is too bad.  It used to be a little more loose in the past.  But I love coming across this – I always know when I’m getting close.  Sometimes, I do a little bit of hopping.  It speaks to me of an earlier, simpler time.  When children could play in the street with no fear.  When children were outdoors all the time and not indoors stuck to technology.  When afterschool and summer meant being outside all the time playing until it got dark and you were called to come in – even when I was little.  It speaks to me of Nantucket and the simple Nantucket I grew up with.  When I see this, it makes me happy.  Really.  It does.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

December 2nd. {1857}  I spent all of yesterday in seeing the outside of Paris.  First in a carriage, then on foot, then in carriage again: from ten in the morning till ten at night I was sightseeing.  It is really a magnificent city.  Edinburgh is picturesque but Paris is splendid.  The streets like the Champs Elysees and Rue Rivoli are beautiful now, and in summer must be charming . . . .

December 7th.  In Paris, you have room to look at things.  In London, you have not. . . . So at Versailles, you see the palace from the magnificent grounds as a whole.  A building in London is seen by corners.

I cannot help but laugh at that last line.  It makes me wonder what she would think of Boston – or even Nantucket – in 2018!  But she is right – some places you can still see everything – and a building as the architect envisioned – but not in many places any longer.

By this time, her charge – Prudence (Prudie) had been forced to return home due to her father going bankrupt by the Panic of 1857.  Maria would travel on alone – and with the Hawthorne family who have been mentioned in these blogs before.


Women in Astronomy and the MMWISS

As you are aware, we held the first Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium on October 5 and 6 this year.  We had over 140 people in attendance – a sold out meeting!  Three of the attendees have just written a compilation of their impressions on the MMWISS which you can find here:


I would like to thank them for attending and for their thoughts.  Here’s to 2020!


What Miss Mitchell Saw

At the close of the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Symposium, I found a surprise left for me.  It was the item you see in this image.  It shows what is supposed to be the night sky on the eve of Maria Mitchell’s discovery of her telescopic comet on October 1, 1847.  It was given to me by someone who I have to come to know over the years for her love of Maria Mitchell and her work to complete a picture book about Maria – What Miss Mitchell Saw – to be published in Spring 2019.  I am VERY excited about the book – the author has included so much about Maria and Nantucket – including Nantucket’s amazing female population! – and I thank her for it.

I have provided a link below to Hayley Barrett’s website – the author.  If you go to the illustrator’s website – the link is provided on Hayley’s website – you will find her Instagram account and some images that will be included in the book!  It is very exciting.

Thank you so much, Hayley!


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

November 1. {1857} There was, as there is very commonly in English society, some dresses too low for my taste, and the wine drinking was universal so that I had to make a special point of getting a glass of water and was afraid I might drink all there was on the table.  I think no one but Prudie and myself took a drop.  The servants stood in array just outside of the dining room door as we entered all in livery . . . Before the dessert came on, saucers were placed before each guest and a little rose water dipped from a silver basin into them, and then each guest washed his face . . . The gentleman next me Prof. {Robert} Willis, told me that it was a custom peculiar to Cambridge and dating from its earliest times.

Maria Was at Trinity College, Cambridge at the Master’s Lodge for dinner.  She was surrounded by numerous professors of the college and also some of her newly made English scientific friends such as the Airys.  Prudie (Prudence Swift) was the young woman Maria was chaperoning on a trip through Europe.

Her distaste for wine and low cut dresses was not just hers – it was also her American and Quaker upbringing.  While she would leave Quaker meeting long before this European trip – she left Quaker meeting in her early 20s as did all the Mitchell siblings – she maintained her Quaker lifestyle until her death.  Note too where her humor comes through a bit – by poking fun at the washing at the table.  Not the fingers mind you, the entire face.


Fall Comes to Vestal Street

Or so I thought.

Some parts of the island had a pretty decent frost the other night (I write this on the 1st of November 2018) but Town did not.  But still, it was time to cut back the Mitchell House’s garden that was devastated by bunnies this year.  We had a bumper crop of baby bunnies though I think a few of them have been, well, eaten, by birds of prey and perhaps a cat or two, sadly.

Watching the forecast, I knew it would be a least partly sunny today but I didn’t know it would be over 60F degrees!  I was sweating!  But I diligently cut back plants, weeded to some degree –  they’ll all grow back before I make my springtime garden wake-up! – and planted some tulip bulbs.  I am using a few Viricic and Beauty of Spring again.  We’ll see if the bunnies or the late cold get to them again – or any thieves.

Then, I attempted to unearth the soldier course of bricks that act as the edge of the Mitchell House garden.  The dirt has spilled and flowed over it for the last, oh many moons, and the plants have grown into that dirt.  I have tried on occasion to unearth it but this time I really dug.  Except for a few spots, I think I did it.  We shall see what happens by spring!


My Way To Work


While I do have to drive in to work every day, I typically park a short distance from the Mitchell House so that I can walk a bit to and from work.  It’s a short walk but an inviting break to think and reflect and to take in the day’s sights.

This is one such sight at the end of May and beginning of June.  Lilacs in bloom.  One of my favorites.  This large and old bush is located in the yard of Joseph Starbucks’s house.  Whale merchant with the requisite candle manufactory in his backyard (that’s what happened here early on), Starbuck has become more famous in today’s world for the three bricks he built his sons on Main Street and the infamous legend that he then told his daughters that their husbands would take care of them.  They did.  His daughters were Eunice Starbuck Hadwen and Eliza Starbuck Barney – women’s and slaves’ rights advocates.

I like to think that the lilac dates to Joseph’s time.  Typically, when they first came from Europe, lilacs were planted by front doors – or so they say – for people to enjoy their scent.  Over the years, I have noticed lilacs growing in the median space of highways and in the middle of what seems to be nowhere – but knowing of their “closeness” to houses, I always assume that a house must have once stood where this lilac continues to grow as cars sadly speed by along the highway.

In any case, I am pretty sure I have noted this before but I grew up with lilacs around my childhood home – I remember my Mom leaning out the second floor bathroom window to cut them from the top of one of the bushes.  It’s one of my favorite flowers – one of my favorite scents.  It reminds me of being little.

And so, perhaps, if they did plant it, I should say, “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Starbuck for making my walk a little sweeter.”


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Oct. 1882.  It seems strange that a comet should be an object of terror.  The beauty of this comet {referring to October 1882 comet}and that of 1861 and of 1881 and the general prosperous condition of the world affairs should do something to destroy this unfortunate prestige.  So far, in the records of history we have no knowledge of harm coming from these startling visits and in the doctrine of probabilities it is even chance that good and not evil may accrue novel changes. 

The year, 1882, and month, October, marked the thirty-fifth year anniversary of Maria Mitchell’s comet discovery on October 1, 1847.  Much of her life – and thousands of years before – were marked by the fear of a comet as a bad omen, a sign from the heavens above, an unexplained object that could bring an end to the Earth.  Even in 1882, a fear still existed among some – a fear of the unknown – something that could not be explained.  In fact, viewing comets with her father as a young girl, even eclipses, drew the attention of Nantucketers – some still afraid of the phenomena viewed by the family living at 1 Vestal Street even though they were living on a fairly enlightened island.


Vestal Street Happenings – Hinchman House

Here is a little peek of what we have going in the basement of Hinchman House which will become the new home for the Education Department.  A matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund has allowed the MMA to do much needed repairs over the last few years to several of our buildings and the basement of Hinchman House is the last piece to the puzzle.  Next up: a walled off area to serve as an office and then some paint on the walls and furniture for classroom space and rainy day space.

A special thanks to Evita Caune of Riptide Finishes for this amazing floor!

And then, we have been gardening!  A special thanks to Greg Maskell Landscaping and Island Irrigation for their work getting our garden in better shape – looking forward to introducing some new native species this spring.  This was funded by a generous gift.