The Connection Series | #2 | Thanksgiving
As many of my followers and readers know, Medford, Massachusetts is my home town. This short 15 minute drive north from the center of downtown Boston is the place where I was raised. Ahhhh Medford, "the ford by the meadow" as it is so aptly named.
The Medford Public School System and Medford Historical Society joined forces many years ago to teach the young citizens of Medford about the illustrious history of our fair city in New England. It was in Medford where my personal interest in history blossomed and evolved. As a child, I was often quite intrigued to learn about what happened in the past. I loved researching things about different places and I recall a school project over one of my academic years that included the completion of our family tree.
All those years before our time in Medford, other citizens co-created their experiences in Medford. Their experiences were very different than ours of course, but it was part of the quilt that we all weave with our given time on Earth.
All that said, it is no wonder that when time came to consider a place to settle down for the finish line of life, my wonderful partner Jeff and I decided upon Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
When I first arrived to our now home in historic Eureka Springs, AR in June 2018, I was also very enamored by this similarity. What happened here then has shaped the experience for us here now. This post offers some additional insight to the many similarities between Medford and Eureka Springs. So inspired by my love for Eureka Springs, I created this blog www.iloveureka.com - thank you for taking time to follow, read and support these efforts.
Happy Thanksgiving 2021
The connection to Thanksgiving
During the 1800's, Thanksgiving was mostly known as a holiday that happened only in New England and it was not celebrated officially outside of that region. The date also varied, often depending on preference by the local authorities or, in most cases, national events. It befuddles me to learn that President James Madison declared April 13, 1815 a day of national Thanksgiving to mark the end of the War of 1812. Thanksgiving in April seems very odd to me.
Well, it was not until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving as a National Holiday to take place on the final Thursday of November across the land. It was 1863 when the date was set and the holiday was celebrated nationally.
Over these many years, as we've all come to know, “Over the River and Through the Wood,” is an all-too-familiar Thanksgiving tune based on an 1844 poem written by Lydia Maria Child. In 1844, she published this poem initially titled as The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.
After it was published, it somehow got set to music and became popular just after the Civil War and by 1900 it was a classroom standard. It became more popular to children as it was taught and it's first line in the first stanza - "Over the River and Through the Wood" is how we know its title today. The original piece had twelve stanzas, though only four are typically included in the song
Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather's house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather's house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for 'tis Thanksgiving Day.
Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.
Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!
Born February 11, 1802 at Medford, MA to Susannah and David Convers Francis, Maria (as she liked to be called) was an accomplished poet, novelist and abolitionist writer. History says that she was also a delight. Yes, delightful people come from Medford, MA. 😊
Known in Medford as a wonderful teacher to children, she also offered advice to housewives and was lauded for nursing her sick father during his last days. Despite a very unhappy childhood, it was clear to many that her heart was full. This famous poem was first published in a collection of poems - Volume II of Flowers for Children.
It is said that this warm, nostalgic image of childhood nestled and bundled in a horse-drawn sleigh racing over to grandfather's house is a projection of longing taken from her imagination. The last of five children, sadly, Maria felt undesired by mother and father for he was often seen as a gloomy man wrought with his own demons and mother who was ill. Both were unsociable - another interesting fact that drove Maria to write and strive to the top of social scenes in Boston.
The Thanksgiving Holiday offered her with the happiest memories of her childhood. For her and her family, this unsociable lot felt the tug of the season and socialized with their community. This was the time of year when her family welcomed local working people into their home and some years it was as many as twenty or more - the wood sawyer, the washer woman, the inn keeper. It was a time for giving thanks and her family was no exception to this, providing their neighbors with delicious pies, both sweet with fruit and savory with meats. Maria loved it when her father would also give them bread, crackers and pastries to take home for their little tots.
Medford, even today, is often a white, wonderland in winter. Today, Medford is most famous as the place where students go for higher education at Tuft's University but back then it was well-known during the 1800s as a place for rum distilling and ship building as well as horse-drawn sleigh racing which is what inspired Maria to pen this poem.
Her first novel, Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times, soared to the top of literary lists in 1824 and this was likely due to the controversial subject matter as the book spoke of a young lady who marries an Indian, divorces and remarries an Episcopalian. As if the witch trials weren't enough, this novel is set in neighboring Salem, Massachusetts. Lydia was so inspired to write this novel (which incidentally took her six weeks to accomplish) after she read an article in the North American Review.
This single accomplishment won her fame and entry into the elite Boston literary salon which at the time was led by George Ticknor.
Later in 1824 she wrote a very popular children’s book, Evenings in New England. Intended for Juvenile Amusement and Instruction. When her third novel flopped this was when she decided to focus her attention on editing the first U.S. children’s magazine.
It was in 1829 when she penned The Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy. The book went through 33 printings in 25 years. Child’s biographer, Carolyn Karcher, states that a majority of women in the 1830s read this book. It popularized shucked oysters as well as the one-crust pumpkin pie which she highlights in Over the River.
Her career spiraled out of control in 1833 when she wrote a book called Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans. This book was her opportunity to denounce slavery and call for the immediate emancipation of slaves with no compensation to their owners. Due to this. many subscribers canceled their subscriptions to her children’s magazine.
The magazine folded.
Her books were soon boycotted and her friends turned away from her when they saw her on the street. George Ticknor also would not be seen speaking to her or to anyone who he knew that associated with her. She did find new friends among the abolitionists, and both Sen. Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips credited her Appeal with awakening them to the horrors of slavery. She was a trailblazer.
“Grandfather’s House” which is referenced in the original poem, still exists in Medford. Locals still refer to it as ‘grandfather’s house’ because the poem originally referred to grandfather.
The Medford Historical Society knows this as The Paul Curtis House after the ship builder of the same name. From 1825 to 1860, Greek Revival architecture flourished in New England and this house is an exceptional depiction of that style as it sits perched on the banks of the Mystic River across from what used to be Paul Curtis' shipyard. Boston's famous Quincy Market, at Fanuiel Hall Marketplace is another example of Greek Revival architecture.
In 1976, Tufts University bought the house, restored it, then sold it to a private owner.
Just a simple, small farmhouse when Curtis originally purchased it, but it expanded considerably.
Curtis moved into the house in 1839, five years before Maria wrote Over the River and Through the Wood.
The mystery remains to be solved - was the house actually Maria’s grandfather’s house or just her imagination running wild? When she was born, both of her grandfathers had already passed away.
Her maternal grandmother, however, Susanna Rand, died in Medford when Maria was 10. As the song evolved, it went from Grandfather to Grandmother so the mystery may be solved within the tune itself as maybe it was grandmother’s house all along.
Lydia Maria Child died on Oct. 20, 1880. She is remembered mostly for her activism to abolish slavery and for Over the River and Through the Wood. She was interred in Wayland, Massachusetts.
Wherever you may be on this Thanksgiving Holiday - a river, a wood, a ford, a meadow, a hillside here in The Ozarks of Arkansas, or quite possibly, Grandfather's house - warm, holiday wishes to you and yours.
"The Connection Series" is a blog-series that features viewpoints from the personal opinion of John-Michael Scurio, a local resident of Eureka Springs, creator, owner of this blog - www.iloveureka.com. This blog-series is dedicated to the nostalgic connections and tugs between John-Michael's current beloved home, Eureka Springs, Arkansas and his childhood hometown, Medford, Massachusetts. Please enjoy!