“Hope Springs Eternal”

This is dramatic for what I relate this quote from Alexander Pope to, but I had really almost given up.

A few years ago, late spring came and Peleg’s grape arbor – which I have written about before – began to bud up.  There are two trunks – two different grape plants.  One – the larger of the two by a great deal – started to sprout its leaf buds.  The other, I          hoped was just a bit behind after a rough winter.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  It never budded – it was killed by the winter of bitter cold and warmth and then bitter cold again.  I started to worry I could lose – the MMA could lose – the entire arbor.  So, desperate to try to ensure its survival, I went to many lengths to try and root the grape which is no easy task based on what I have read.  I finally – after multiple  attempts – resorted to taking long cuttings and placing them in some soil and then putting them in the window of the Observatory’s Seminar Room where I spend the winter – my “winter office.”

I have been watering them since October and frankly, they continued to look like dead sticks.  At the beginning of February, I almost threw them out but then decided that I would wait just in case.  Well, on February 7, 2018, I glanced over and – overnight it seems – leaf buds had appeared!  I was elated! And now they continue to grow and one has begun to unfurl itself.  I hope I can keep them going and can then plant them in place of the old one that died a few winters ago.  Let’s hope.  This is just another tie to the Mitchell past.


Important New Donation Made to the Mitchell House


In June, I was contacted by a Mitchell family member inquiring if we might be interested in a family piece. This piece has descended through the Peleg Mitchell Jr. side of the family. Peleg, the youngest of William Mitchell’s brothers, purchased the house at 1 Vestal Street and lived in it until his death in the late 1880s.

In early July, the family member arrived at 1 Vestal Street having brought not one but two items all the way from California. From her bag she produced a camlet (baby blanket) and a small white cotton infant’s cap – both of which had descended in the Mitchell family via the oldest daughter since 1733!

The camlet is dark brown with a beautiful peacock blue silk border. Originally, camlets were woven of camel hair – thus the name – and later goat hair with silk and then basically any kind of wool or wool and cotton blends. This camlet is likely a cotton wool blend. Made even more special is the fact that a piece of twill tape is stitched to the underside of the blanket and on it are the initials and birth years of all of the baby girls who were wrapped in the blanket – it was then their task to pass the blanket on to their daughter. Once or twice it skipped a generation if no girls were born. This is a very unique record and makes the blanket even more special as we have its provenance right there on the blanket. Several small cards also came with the blanket speaking to its history. It is in wonderful condition having been cared for tremendously by its keepers. The infant’s cap is a treasure as well with a beautiful but simple cut piece sewn on to the main portion that gives a bit of a delicate sweep to the cap.

The babies wrapped in camlet from 1733 into 1980s.

We are truly grateful that the family felt that the Mitchell House was the place for these two items. They will of course be treasured and shared with visitors. It is a fitting return to the “homestead’ so to speak and we are truly grateful for the opportunity to protect, preserve, and share these two pieces.



MH Morning glory with happy Bees We have not had a killing frost here yet but the last few nights have been enough to start to put a damper on the more fragile plants. For the Mitchell House it means the nasturtiums and morning glories. Last week I was able to snap a few images of them still at full glory (excuse the pun). Peleg Mitchell Junior, Maria Mitchell’s uncle who purchased 1 Vestal Street after the William Mitchell family moved to the Pacific Bank, and his wife Mary had nasturtiums all around “Neighbor North” – their outhouse in the north part of the backyard. October Morning Glories Mitchell House

Check out the bees in the morning glories and how covered they are with pollen!

JNLFMitchell House nasturtiums

Treasure Trove!

Well, we have made it into the basement of the Wing to clean out the journal stacks. I would like to give a HUGE thank you to our Education interns who pulled and boxed and moved the journals from the outside walls of the Wing basement over the course of several afternoons this summer. I now have six interior shelves to complete (and I think the liquor stores are tired of seeing me!). These journals will all be carefully combed through (for ephemera, notes, and MMA related articles), assessed, and we will decide how to process them further – hopefully all this winter.

Nantucket Wildflower Box

But, as I was working near the stairs yesterday, I cleaned off the rest of a wooden shelf. Obviously, there is a little space behind this shelf under the stairs so I moved the shelf to check behind it for any things stashed away and lo and behold! I found what you are seeing in these images. When I saw the “Hinchman Nantucket Wildflowers” stamped on these small wooden boxes, my first thought was “First edition leftovers of the book!” (Published in 1921.) Then I thought, “No silly, too small a box for that.” I opened one and saw all these small, what I at first thought were glass slides. So I thought, glass slides or negatives of the flower drawings from the book! Then I saw how many boxes – it’s a deep dark space in there – and knowing the book has not that many images, I investigated further. What I uncovered was ALL of the original printing plates for the book! That means there are 400 plus steel plates for the printing press. Very exciting!

Open Nantucket Wildflower Box

Nantucket Wildflowers was written by (then) Alice O. Albertson and illustrated by Anne Hinchman. MMA saw to its publishing and the Knickerbocker Press, a part of G.P Putnam’s Sons printed it. Albertson was the MMA curator – back when all the departments were in the Mitchell House – from 1914 – 1931. She would marry Alfred Shurrocks (in 1929), a well-respected architect, who designed the fireproof Wing of the MMA Science Library in the 1930s. Mrs. Shurrocks was the granddaughter of Peleg Mitchell, uncle of Maria Mitchell. Mrs. Albertson also wrote Two Steps Down about her recollections of spending summers with her grandmother, Mary Mitchell (Peleg’s wife), at 1 Vestal Street. Anne, a talented artist, was her cousin and also a granddaughter of Mary and Peleg. All in the family, eh?

Nantucket Wildflower Boxes Stacked

I hope to, sometime soon, create a small exhibit in which something like these plates can be featured so stay tuned!