Friday, May 29, 2009

27 May 1942: Assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich by Czech Paratroopers

On this day in 1942, paratroopers sent by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, the ruler of the Nazi-occupied "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia." Heydrich was not only the "Reichsprotektor," but also the architect of the SS security apparatus and a driving force behind the extermination of European Jewry.

The attack mortally wounded Heydrich, who died on 4 June. The reprisals that followed are, if possible, even better known than the assassination itself. In particular, the massacre or deportation of the innocent villagers of Lidice became a synonym for the state terror and collective punishment under Nazi occupation. (That such terms are nowadays cavalierly applied in vastly different and incommensurate contexts is a sad irony worth noting, even though we cannot discuss it in detail here.)

The motivations and calculations behind the assassination were complex, and in part because of the ferocity of the Nazi response, details remained murky long afterward.

Reflecting on the difficult choices and consequences some three decades later, former Chief of Czechoslovak Intelligence František Moravec concluded:
Perhaps 5,000 Czechs paid with their lives for the death of a single Nazi maniac. The cost and the worth of the killing of Heydrich has been the subject of much controversy. It is certainly true that the price paid for Heydrich was much higher than the figures indicate, for the Nazis executed systematically the very best of the nation. On the other hand, it is quite clear that had Heydrich lived he would have done no less. The eradication of the Czechoslovak nation and its amalgamation into the Reich, including the systematic murder of its leaders, was the assignment with which he came to Prague.

In my opinion, the problem of cost can be reduced to a simple principle, so well understood by the parachutists Kubis and Gabcik: freedom and, above all, liberation from slavery have to be fought for, and this means losses in human lives.
The ethical and strategic dilemmas remain as relevant today as they were then. Among other things, it is bracing to be reminded of an age in which leaders calmly and resolutely--though not at all lightly--made such calculations involving both political principles and human lives. Our otherwise commendable modern desire to avoid loss of human life "at all costs" may blind us to the equal or greater costs of inaction.

Because I was for the first time present in the Czech Republic on the occasion of these anniversaries, I'll return to these topics in a more systematic way in the near future.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Practical Things You Can Learn from Studying Science. Lessons from history

A recent article by John Malone and Brian Oliver, "The genomic 'inner fish' and a regulatory enigma in the vertebrates," in the Journal of Biology (an OpenAccess publication, always a good thing) managed to include one of my favorite scientific anecdotes:
Even before the origin of species by descent from a common ancestor was posited, it was realized that groups of animals had related morphologies. Georges Cuvier, the father of comparative anatomy, viewed anatomical structures though the lens of form and function. Similar looking anatomical structures should have similar function, and anatomy could be used diagnostically to group organisms – a theory he termed "the correlation of parts" [1]. A famous story illustrates the idea. One of Cuvier's students dressed as the Devil with horns on his head and hoof-shaped shoes burst into Cuvier's bedroom when he was asleep and said, "I am the Devil. I have come to devour you!" Cuvier woke up and replied, "I doubt whether you can. You have horns and hooves. You eat only plants."
Cuvier thereupon rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Run It up the Flagpole and See. . . what?

This was the sight that greeted visitors as they came up the main drive onto the Hampshire College campus shortly before Commencement.

The question is: why?

The College always sets out the flags of United Nations member states on festive occasions. So, nothing unusual there. And, given that the flags are arranged in a circle, every flag will by definition be next to two other flags. There are a total of 192 UN member states. Are you with me? So far, so good. This is the United States, so one could reasonably assume (yes, even in Amherst), that the Stars and Stripes would be front and center. And, either because this is Amherst, or simply because we try to fly the flags of all nations of the world, one could also surmise that the UN flag might be highlighted (the Town flies it on the Common, alongside the national flag). So, the US and UN flags are next to each other. Each therefore has a chance of being next to only one national flag out of the 191 remaining.

The flags next to the US flag are the UN flag and that of Israel.

What, as the saying goes, are the odds of that?

Yes, this could be your chance, by demonstrating understanding of statistical methods, to pass your quantitative skills requirement.

We don't like multiple-choice tests at Hampshire. In fact, most of us don't give tests at all, preferring essay assignments. But for the sake of argument, humor me, and give it a try.

As a cultural historian, of course, I see just these basic choices:
  • random, statistical chance (both the US and UN flags have a chance of being next to any one of the 191 other flags)
  • there may be some meaning to the choice, but it was just something those guys in Physical Plant did on their own when they set up for graduation, so it's anyone's guess and has no official meaning
  • the College, reeling from the bad publicity occasioned by the divestment issue and other controversies involving the Middle East, quite deliberately sought to send the implicit message—in particular to parents and prospective donors—that it is neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic
Which is it? You decide.

Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk

The Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk, held annually on the weekend closest to the date of her death, by tradition concludes at her graveside, where there are a few formal remarks and readings from her works and a toast (seltzer rather than champagne these days, alas). Attendees are also invited to step forward and read their favorite poems.

Herewith, a few images of the afternoon's event, which drew one of the largest crowds in recent memory.

Then: the Dickinson Family plot, in an old photograph, on the sign marking the final stop on the poetry walk.
These are the original family grave monuments: matching, but cubical in form and simple. Emily's stone originally bore only her initials, "EED." Early in the twentieth century, her niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi, who came to assume the role of keeper and quasi-creator of the Dickinson poetic legacy, replaced the simpler markers with larger, upright ones, bearing sententious inscriptions (below). She created similarly uniform stones for members of the Austin Dickinson family in Wildwood Cemetery (a modern "rural" or "park" cemetery, in whose creation Austin played a major role).

Now: the Dickinson plot today, with the gravestones that Martha Dickinson Bianchi substituted for the originals. Emily's, as is well known, bears the poetic-philosophical epitaph, "Called Back."

Tributes—a bouquet and a program—left by dancers from Amherst Ballet's production of "Emily of Amherst" on the preceding night are still present.

Restoration of the badly deteriorated and improperly repaired iron fence (see details below) is on the list of the Historical Commission's Community Preservation Act projects for the coming fiscal year.

The throng arrives, via the Gaylord Gate, making its way from the 1730 Knoll (where landscape restoration is in progress) to the post-1870 section of the cemetery, in which the Dickinson plot is located.

Literary scholar, Dickinson aficionado—and Town Meeting Moderator—Harrison Gregg reads Emily's poetry:

The crowd assembles. A guest offers song as well as poetry.

[updated images]

West Cemetery Landscape Restoration: Second Planting

This weekend, just in time for the Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk and close on the heels of Town Meeting's approval of a long list of Historical Commission projects, the second phase of West Cemetery landscape preservation got underway.

The Stockbridge School fraternity, Alpha Tau Gamma (ATG), continued its efforts to bring back a meadow-like environment on the 1730 Knoll, the oldest and most threatened part of the Cemetery. Volunteers planted 120 creeping phlox, two dozen creeping thyme, a dozen rudbeckia, and five lupines.

Volunteers efforts such as these are the spearhead of the restoration process, but do not end there. The new CPA funds that will become available with the start of Fiscal Year 2010 will begin to finance the larger and more ambitious restoration efforts, including tree plantings. ATG will, however, be involved here, as well, contributing labor and maintenance services as appropriate.

In this way, the Historical Commission hopes to maximize the use of resources by drawing upon volunteer donations of materials and labor wherever possible, while turning to public funds and Town staff for implementation of the more ambitious aspects of the plan.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 15: The Cemetery is Alive on the Anniversary of Emily Dickinson's Death

The spirit of Emily Dickinson seemed tangible in West Cemetery as night waned on the anniversary of her death. Following the very successful premiere of "Emily of Amherst" by Amherst Ballet, members of the company spontaneously decided to pay a nocturnal visit to the poet's grave.

Most had never been to the plot or even the Cemetery before, although a few had begun to acquaint themselves with the site in preparation for the production. Scene 1 of Act Two, "Becoming a Poet," is set there, where her "departed friends" emerge from behind their tombstones. One can easily visit, or just locate virtually, the monuments of Sophia Holland (1828-44) Jennie Grout ?-1851), Abby Haskell (?-1851), and Martha and Ellen Kingman (both ?-1851). The grave of tutor and friend Leonard Humphrey (1824-50) is elsewhere.

A passage recited at the opening of the act suggests how the experience of loss brought Dickinson early on to ponder the fact and symbolism of death and prospects for an afterlife:
I write to Abiah tonight, . . . because I am feeling lonely; some of my friends are gone, and some of my friends are sleeping the churchyard sleep—the hour of evening is sad—it was once my study hour—my master has gone to rest, and the open leaf of the book, and the scholar at school alone, make the tears come, and I cannot brush them away; I would not if I could, for they are the only tribute I can pay the departed [Leonard Humphrey].) You have stood by the grave before; I have walked there sweet summer evenings and read the names on the stones, and wondered who would come and give me the same memorial; but I have never laid my friends there, and forgot that they too must die; . . . To those bereaved so often that home is no more here, and whose communion with friends is only in prayers, there must be much to hope for, but when the unreconciled spirit has nothing left but God, that spirit is lone indeed. I don't think there will be any sunshine, or any singing-birds in the spring that's coming. I shall look for an early grave then, when the grass is growing green.
——to Abiah Root, 1850
For good reason, then, did the "Reader's Guide" to Dickinson's poetry, produced by the NEA and Poetry Foundation for this year's "Big Read" and distributed free to the audience at the ballet, cite the place of immortality as Dickinson's "flood subject."

As the group moved through the cemetery, a simple stroll took on mysterious qualities when the orange haze from the lamps near the Gaylord Gate gave way to increasing darkness and a more restrained, though not somber mood. Near the grave itself, the glow from cell phone screens had to provide most of the light. The dancers investigated the iron fence and monuments and gave Emily the memorial that she craved and doubted. The dancers paid tribute by leaving gifts of flowers—the very bouquets that they had received from friends and family but a short time ago—or striking ballet postures before the family plot.

They also recited Dickinson's letters and poems, chiefly from those used in the ballet, though someone, a parent perhaps, had thought to bring the collected verse, and so the tribute grew. There was a momentary shiver when a fiddler struck up a tune from the opacity somewhere between the 1730 Knoll and the newer section of the cemetery where we stood. In an instant, we relaxed, and he soon came over to join us. A short time later, a group of college women—clearly on their way from a party, but one that had somehow prompted them to want to render their homage to Emily—wandered our way in need of directions, which we gladly supplied.


As the gathering closed, someone instinctively reached for the poem that introduced Act Four, "Legacy," on Emily Dickinson's posthumous fate:

The Poets light but Lamps ~
Themselves — go out —

The Wicks they stimulate

If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns ~

Each Age a Lens

Disseminating their

Circumference —

The reader cried, and she was not alone in doing so.

[updated images]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Next Step in West Cemetery Landscape Restoration Saturday

Following on the successful initial effort this past fall, members of the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School's fraternity Alpha Tau Gamma (ATG) will undertake a second planting on the 1730 Knoll in Amherst's West Cemetery as part of the comprehensive landscape restoration plan that the Historical Commission is carrying out.

The volunteers will be at work between around 9 and 11 a.m., and the public is welcome. The planting comes just in time for participants in the Annual Poetry Walk, which traditionally ends at Emily Dickinson's grave in the mid-afternoon.

More on the Premiere of the New Dickinson Ballet This Weekend

Following on the heels of the lengthy piece in the Republican, the Gazette ran its own detailed article on Thursday, here via the May 15 issue of Bulletin:

Kathleen Mellen, "Dancing Emily Dickinson":

The inspiration for Amherst Ballet's new, original production, "Emily of Amherst," based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson, came from one of her poems.

It reads, in part:

I CANNOT dance upon my Toes -
No Man instructed me -
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge -
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe -
Or lay a Prima, mad ...

It is just one of the 1,800 poems Dickinson wrote in her lifetime; fewer than a dozen of which were published before her death. (read the rest)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Early Coverage of Historic Preservation Votes

Scott Merzbach, "Amherst votes to spend CPA money on historic preservation," Hampshire Gazette, 12 May 2009
Last Night's Key Decisions:

Town Meeting voted to spend $337,800 from the Community Preservation Act account for a series of historic preservation, affordable housing and open space projects.

Of this total, $265,600 is aimed at various historic projects, many of which will help the town celebrate its 250th anniversary this year, said CPA Committee member Louis Greenbaum.

The projects at the historic West Cemetery and the preservation of historic buildings, Greenbaum said, honor Amherst's past and helps the town take pride in its accomplishments.

Town Meeting unanimously approved $25,000 for historic ironwork restoration at the cemetery and $30,000 for the town tomb reconstruction.

James Smith of Precinct 6 said the town tomb has sustained damage in recent years. "This is necessary to maintain that historic structure," Smith said.

Town Meeting members, though, had a lengthy discussion on appropriating $20,000 for landscape preservation at the cemetery before approving the expenditure by 128-61.

Mary Streeter of Precinct 8 and Vince O'Connor of Precinct 1, both members of the CPA Committee, said they were opposed to this spending, in part, because the CPA account was being reduced too much. "This is not something urgent to be done right away," Streeter said.

But James Wald of the Historical Commission said the cemetery represents a time capsule of Amherst's social values, aesthetics and history. "This town is in danger of losing an important resource," Wald said.

Town Meeting voted to spend $15,000 in CPA money for preparation of bid specifications for repairs to the Jones Library roof, $10,000 to study a climate control system for special collections at the library and $20,000 for the fourth of five yearly payments to pay for the preservation of historic documents.

Members rejected $7,000 for repair of the roof at the North Congregational Church.

Janet Chevan of Precinct 7 said she was uncomfortable with spending CPA money on a church building,

Smith agreed. "There is a definite separation of church and state issue here," Smith said,

Despite an effort to reduce the $65,000 for restoring the historic Civil War tablets, Town Meeting narrowly approved the full CPA expenditure by a 91-84 tally vote.

By a 95-70 tally vote, Town Meeting agreed to spend $30,000 for historic writers' walk signs that will recognize famous authors who have lived in Amherst.

Other items approved included $10,000 for nomination packages for expansion of the Dickinson Historical District and creation of an Amherst Depot District and $15,000 to complete an historic inventory of barns and other outbuildings.

Another $25,600 in CPA money will go for the third of five yearly payments for preserving the Kimball House on North East Street

Town Meeting unanimously also agreed to spend $47,200 in CPA money for affordable housing projects, of which $30,000 will be used for a Habitat for Humanity home being constructed on Stanley Street. The other $17,200 represents the minimum 10 percent set aside for future housing projects. Town Meeting members Rob Kusner and Jim Oldham both expressed concern that affordable housing is not being sufficiently funded.

Meanwhile, Town Meeting postponed consideration of Article 13, a petition submitted by O'Connor in support of increasing the state and federal gas tax, until after Article 30 is completed, likely sometime in late June.

Light Moment:

When a voice vote to call the question on the CPA spending on historic writers' walk signs seemed to be evenly divided, a Town Meeting member immediately shouted out for a count.

Moderator Harrison Gregg seemed taken aback because he had not yet announced which way he believed the voice vote went.

"I haven't counted it; how can you doubt it?" Gregg said.

After much laughter in the auditorium, Gregg called for a second voice vote, at which time he determined the ayes had won and the question could be called.

Words to Ponder:

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe notified Town Meeting that it would likely be adjourning to June 15, instead of the original June 1 date, at which time the fiscal year 2010 budget issues would be taken up.

"As everyone knows this is an absolutely extraordinary budget year," O'Keeffe said.

She said there are unprecedented unknowns in the budget, including the amount of state funding and whether local option taxes will be available, that could be resolved by the later date.

Next Up:

Next year's budget, along with capital spending items, will be considered.

May 14 update: the May 15 issue of the Bulletin (which requires no registration) includes some of the above in the context of all May TM actions: Scott Merzbach, "Town Meeting Wraps Up Until June":
A series of improvements to the West Cemetery, an increase in the density of residential units in downtown and village centers, better protections for transgender individuals and preservation of open parcels in the Lawrence Swamp area have been approved at annual Town Meeting. (read the rest)
It's often interesting to note which items are highlighted in briefer or later coverage. The Bulletin piece leads with the Cemetery improvements, which together are the largest category of historical preservation expenditures, even though they--with the possible exception of the landscape improvements--did not generate much debate.

* * *


Video from ACTV.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Town Meeting historic preservation votes

(via mail)
Town meeting overwhemingly voted in favor of our projects, defeating only $7000 for roof repair to the North Congregational Church (concern over church-state issues seems to have done it in).
A great victory for historical preservation, civic spirit, and right reason.
10:05 p.m.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kimball House Historic Preservation

Article 18 F: $ 25,600 for Kimball House Historic Preservation (year 3 of 5)

This is by far the simplest of the proposed appropriations: It represents a continuing legal obligation to the Commonwealth that Town Meeting approved three years ago, and is not negotiable. Finis.

Historic Resource Inventory, Phase II: Historic Barns and Outbuildings

Article 18 N: Historic Resource Inventory, Phase II: Historic Barns and Outbuildings: $ 15,000

This measure, like the preceding one involving districts, is mandated by the Preservation Plan (p. 36) as a continuation of ongoing standard activity:
"Update the existing [Historic Resource] inventory by . . . completing [Massachusetts Historical Commission] forms for the . . . landscapes and structures which were not included in previous efforts."
Rigorously prepared inventories, entailing documentation of the nature and history of landscapes and the built environment, are a key element in the training, and constitute the the bread-and-butter work, of preservation professionals.

The proposal here addresses our rapidly disappearing agricultural heritage. As active farming has declined, many property owners find themselves without a need, or in many cases, even the ability, to preserve the barns, sheds, and other outbuildings that were once ubiquitous. The disappearance of these structures means the disappearance or radical transformation of much of the historical character of the town. The first task, as always, is to document what remains, so that appropriate assessment and action can follow.

To cite one example of the importance of proper inventories in preservation: Only thanks to the fact that our predecessors on the Historical Commission had begun to establish a thorough inventory that included agricultural structures was a group of preservationists able to halt careless and illegal state demolitions on the UMass campus in recent years.

The Historical Commission hopes hereby not only to preserve our heritage, but to encourage sustainability. Calling attention to farm buildings can help to encourage local agriculture or assist farmers in securing help with preservation. Adaptive reuse of such buildings for other purposes is moreover an example of green building and smart growth at their best.

National Historic Register Nominations: Dickinson District Expansion & new Depot District

Article 18 M: Historic Register District Nomination (Dickinson District Expansion & new Amherst Depot District): $ 10,000

Nominations of either individual properties or entire areas to the National Register of Historic Places are one of the most common and important preservation practices. They ensure that historic resources are thoroughly and professionally documented, and they actively protect them by raising public awareness and, in some cases, forestalling certain types of state or federal action.

Amherst already has 9 NHR's, and the Preservation Plan (pp. 36, 38-39) calls for continuation of this work:
"Complete National Historic Register work [nominations] for . . . Railroad Depot Area . . . [and at least 15 other potential NHR districts."
In this particular case, the goal is to acknowledge the importance of the areas neighboring and east of the grand and imposing mansions: the houses where resided the laborers--including the new Irish immigrant community--who worked in the homes and factories of the wealthy. One measure extends the boundaries of the existing Dickinson District. Another creates an entirely new district in the vicinity of the current Amtrak station. In this way, we acknowledge the social diversity and industrial heritage of the town.

The funds pay for professionally rigorous research and recording of data from the area, and development and submission of the detailed rationale and documentation required for the new designations.

Amherst Literary Landmarks Project: Writer's Walk

Article 18 L: Historic Signs for Literary Landmarks Project: Amherst Writer's Walk: $ 30,000

The Amherst Writer's Walk emerged directly from the action items of the Amherst Preservation Plan (2005; funded with CPA monies; pp. 37-38):
  • "Develop, install, and maintain a system of signs and street furnishings to mark historic districts and village centers, and to encourage tourism"
  • "Continue to expand and maintain the existing sign program, providing better way-finding cues for visitors and creating more visible signs"
  • "Create walking tours of Amherst's historic districts
It is also one of the fruits of partnering with other state and local organizations (one of the mandated activities of local historical commissions): in this case, the Massachusetts Center for the Book, Hampshire College, and the Jones Library. The Center for the Book, a state affiliate of the national organization housed in the Library of Congress, works to promote literacy, reading, and "understanding of and appreciation for the past, present, and future of the book and of the book arts in Massachusetts."

One of its major initiatives is a literary map of the Commonwealth (currently in paper, eventually online, as well) intended to call attention to our literary heritage and contemporary literary life, and in the process, to assist in the preservation and promotion of the physical sites. Amherst is privileged to have 16 sites (behind only Boston and Cambridge) listed in the first edition of the map, and is one of only five locales to earn its own inset. The Center for the Book thus encouraged us to develop markers for these emblems of our distinguished place in the cultural history of the Commonwealth, and our anniversary year seemed the perfect occasion to do this. This past fall, students in my seminar at Hampshire College studied historic preservation and local social and cultural history, and researched individual writers and literary sites. Their papers will furnish the basis for marker texts, as well as for parallel entries on the exciting new Digital Amherst website that the Jones Library and its Special Collections have launched in our anniversary year. (Here is the entry that one of the students did for the Amherst Academy).

The number of Amherst writers is large, so we tried to select an initial list that gives a good sense of the range of our contributions to the literary world, above and beyond the inimitable Emily Dickinson, who does not lack for a public and publicity.

• Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946), journalist, muckraker, press secretary to President Wilson at Versailles Peace Conference, Pulitzer Prize winner; writings on the rural life under the pseudonym, David Grayson. Home at 118 Sunset Avenue (home of the Stockbridge fraternity ATG)

Robert Frost (1874-1963), poet, US Poet Laureate, winner of four Pulitzer prizes; residence at 43 Sunset Ave., 1931-38

Robert Francis (1901-87), poet in the circle of Robert Frost, who called him the best unknown poet in the country; home, "Fort Juniper" at 170 Market Hill Road--today a writer's retreat

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-85), childhood friend of Emily Dickinson, activist on behalf of Native American rights in the west; childhood home at 249 South Pleasant St.

Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932): author, artist, popular lecturer; founder of Amherst Historical Society; early editor of Emily Dickinson's poetry; home: "The Dell," 90 Spring St.

Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966): muckraking journalist, populist and activist on behalf of socialism, feminism, pacifism; summer residence at 219 Amity Street, the boyhood home of:

Eugene Field (1850-95); humorist and author of children's literature ("Wynken, Blynken, and Nod")

Lilian and Howard Garis (1873-1954; 1873-1962) journalists and authors of children's literature the Bobbsey Twins, Uncle Wiggily), home at the other "Dell," 97 Spring St. (today, office of Five Colleges, Inc.)

Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa; 1858-1939), physician in the Indian Health Service, Native American rights activist; author of works on Native American Life; residence on Snell St.

Noah Webster (1758-1843); lexicographer, political reformer, educator involved with Amherst Academy and Amherst College; residence was on Main St. in the center of town


Is it permitted to spend money on signs?

Yes. In the first place, signs are among the most common sources of expenditure under existing CPA practice. Some three dozen communities have appropriated funds for signs marking historic sites and open space, without a single legal challenge.

When asked for an opinion, Town Counsel ruled that the signs were clearly appropriate if located on-site and involving the standard protective language of historic preservation.

What do we get for the money?

A smart investment in materials at the outset means a product that will last and not need replacement in the foreseeable future. Porcelain enamel signs will resist fading and deterioration.

Based on consultation with designers, staff of other historical preservation groups (e.g. Historic Northampton), and the specialized manufacturing firms, and assuming that we can have installation done in-house by Department of Public Work, we calculate that, at about $ 420 per square foot, a porcelain enamel marker of about 5.7 square feet would cost about $ 2400, and a high-quality but simple steel post, about $ 1000, for a total of $ 3,400.

The requested appropriation should thus pay for 9 to 10 signs, depending on final cost.

Why are signs a priority?

As indicated in the Preservation Plan, historic markers are one of the most important and common forms of historic preservation practice. They are arguably the best means of highlighting and protecting Amherst's rich literary heritage, moreover potentially paving the way for other, legal-institutional preservation measures. In addition, they can play a major role in cultural tourism, a clean economic growth industry, and one of the most important for Amherst.

North Church Roof Repairs

Article 18 k: North Congregational Church Roof Repairs: $ 7000

The congregation of the 1826 North Church approached us with a very modest request for support. The church has already undertaken a series of major and very expensive repairs following damage from a storm. Recently, however, the contractors discovered additional, structural problems in the original construction of the roof. Addressing this issue now can help to ensure the integrity of the building in years to come.

The church is what is called a "contributing structure" of the North Amherst National Historic Register District. From the NHR nomination:
“[North Amherst Center] is the historic civic, religious, and commercial center for North Amherst. The church [1826], meeting hall [1845 parish hall—on the church property], library [1893], school [1833/1845/1860/1887], fire department [1920], tavern [1803], and general store have all been clustered in the area since [beginning around] 1821. . . . North Amherst is located at the primary junction of the north-south road between Amherst and Sunderland (North Pleasant Street) and an east-west road from Amherst to [North] Hadley (Meadow and Pine Street).”
As a historical and visual anchor of the neighborhood, the church thus ranks high on any list of preservation priorities.

By affirming the historic and architectural importance of the structure through the appropriation of a modest share of CPA funds, the Town may help the church to secure assistance from private grants in the case of future repair needs.


Is there a problem with giving CPA funds to a private group?

No. Community Preservation Act Committees across the Commonwealth regularly disburse funds to private property owners and organizations. Such grants represent the public interest in the preservation of a given property and concretely help to protect it.

It is the law that there must be a quid pro quo for a grant of public preservation funds to a private body--usually in the form of a historic preservation restriction. The restriction is the legal means of affirming the Town's interest in the public view and character of the structure. The church would commit--vis-à-vis the Town and the Commonwealth (via Massachusetts Historical Commission) not to destroy or undertake measures harmful to the building, and in particular, the view from the public way. Such agreements simply formalize our shared interest (in all senses of the word) in the preservation of a landmark.

Is there a problem regarding church and state?

No. Such issues require due diligence and proper sensitivity, but numerous churches and other religious structures have received preservation support from state and federal funds.

The issue has come up in the past when religious organizations approached us with potential funding requests (which they, for various reasons, chose not to pursue). In Town Counsel's opinion, there is no threat to the wall of separation here. The Community Preservation Act Coalition agrees. Grants to churches are nothing new.

As with any private property, the action here signifies the public interest in the public aspect of the site: its history and visual character.

Jones Library Preservation Projects

Jones Library Articles
Article 18 G: Archival Material Conservation & Restoration (Year 4 of 5), Jones Library Special Collections, with Town Clerk's Office: $ 20,000
Article 18 H: Jones Library Roof study/bid specs and emergency repairs: $ 15,000
Article 18 I: Jones Library Special Collections Climate Control (HVAC) study/bid specs

These articles are closely related, for the concern the relation between the integrity of the building and the protection of the collections it houses. For three years, now CPA has been funding the restoration of Town documents (including tax records, records of Town Meeting on paper and audio-visual media, etc.) as well as the whole range of rare resources in Jones Special Collections (books, letters, photographs on paper or glass, audio recordings, and the like).

It has become increasingly clear, however, that conditions in the building are actually or potentially deleterious to holdings. The most dramatic problem occurs in the place where one would least expect it: Special Collections, which is supposed to be controlled for stable temperature and humidity, but which in fact displays large and disturbing fluctuations.

More recently, deterioration to the fabric of the building itself has become apparent, notably to the slate roof and related structural elements.

Given the historic nature of the building, expert analysis of materials and techniques is required if repairs are to be lasting and do more harm than good. Because the potential cost of such comprehensive work is very high, the Historical Commission is supporting funding for initial work that will diagnose the problem, establish a plan for complete correction, and fund any emergency repairs that cannot safely be put off. It is in this sense that the word, "study," is to be understood. We anticipate that a good share of the appropriation can be used for actual repairs. The remainder, if any, would return to the pool.

The Historical Commission has expressed an interest in hearing proposals for funding the larger repair scheme once a rigorous plan has been developed.

(more content coming)

Civil War Tablet Conservation and Installation

Article 18 J: Civil War Tablets--Phase I Conservation, Engineering & Design,
Installation and Interpretation: $ 65,000


Why are these so important?

These marble tablets, donated to the town by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union Army Veterans' organization
At the time of the donation in 1893, the Civil War was closer for citizens of that era than Vietnam is to us. The Civil War, fought to preserve the Union and end slavery, produced more casualties than any other conflict in American history, including the World Wars. This is Amherst's only public memorial to that costly and fateful conflict.

The six tablets list over 300 local residents who served, including 21 African-American soldiers who took part in the war for unity and freedom.

The tablets were originally displayed in Town Hall but were removed in the course of renovations and never reinstalled.

Returning them to Town Hall is an appropriate gesture of respect for the principles they represent, and thus a fitting commemorative project in this, our 250th anniversary year.

What does this money actually pay for?

The massive tablets need to be cleaned and repaired. Because they manage to be both large and fragile, careful engineering will be needed to develop a manner of presentation that avoids harm to both the tablets and the elements of the building within which they are installed. Professional conservators and engineers have calculated:
  1. Safely crate, transport, clean, and conserve 6 marble tablets: $ 25,000
  2. Structural engineering analysis of potential display locations in Town Hall: $ 10,000
  3. Research, design, and bid specifications for secure installation, including lighting, protection, and interpretation: $ 10,000
  4. Installation of at least two tablets, presumably in the foyer: $ 20,000.

We will seek to obtain the remaining funding through a combination of grants, donations, and possibly future CPA funding. It is, however, essential to complete this first phase now: Having the proper engineering and planning in hand will help the Town to make a case for grant funding. Having at least some of the tablets on display is the best way to inspire donors to help fund installation of the others.

Emily Dickinson Ballet to Premiere for 250th

Briefly noted:

Amherst Ballet, in collaboration with the Emily Dickinson Museum, has created an original performance piece to interpret aspects of the life of Amherst's most famous resident. It's noteworthy in several regards, not least of which is the failure of the town to produce an official legacy artwork in conjunction with the 25oth anniversary celebrations.

One hopes that projects such as this can help to fill the void and carry some of this year's accomplishments into the future. It is in the same spirit that the Historical Commission has proposed an ambitious program of preservation projects for consideration at Annual Town Meeting.

Pat Cahill, "Poet's life celebrated in ballet," The Republican, 10 May 2009, reports:
"How on earth," people used to ask Catherine Fair, director of Amherst Ballet, "are you going to write a ballet about a woman who sat at her desk and wrote all the time?"

After this weekend, people may ask the opposite: What medium other than dance could possibly capture the nimble wit and sylph-like image of Emily Dickinson?

Fair and Jane Wald, director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, have created "Emily in Amherst," a four-act ballet that runs on Friday through May 17 at Kirby Theater at Amherst College. (read the rest)

West Cemetery Landscape Restoration

Article 18 E: West Cemetery Landscape Restoration (1730-1870 sections): $ 20,000

Although most of us associate historic preservation with buildings, historic landscapes, urban and rural alike, are an increasingly prominent element of modern preservation practice.

West Cemetery is a treasure that earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in part because it is a time capsule or museum of evolving landscape architecture--and the accompanying social attitudes and aesthetics--from the Colonial to the high Victorian eras. The Preservation Plan sets forth a comprehensive system of treatments, embracing the overall topography and viewscapes, Cemetery turf or "floor," circulation paths, herbaceous plants, and trees. Plants are either historical varieties or the closest hardy, disease-resistant modern cultivars.

In moving ahead with these efforts, we have been very fortunate to secure the assistance of the horticultural fraternity of the Stockbridge School at the University of Massachusetts, Alpha Tau Gamma (ATG), which has been engaged in many philanthropic projects, ranging from the creation of a memorial garden for alumnus "Victory Garden" host Jim Crockett to assisting in the planting of the 250th Anniversary daffodils here in Amherst. ATG is eager to embark on a decade-long collaboration that will allow its members to practice their skills and help the town by furnishing a combination of plants and labor.

The first phase of landscape restoration will focus on the sections of the cemetery in which we have undertaken our most substantial previous work: the 1730 Knoll, the adjoining African-American section, and the Town Tomb area. These are the oldest sections of the cemetery as well as those that have been most threatened by a combination of regular maintenance work, visitor traffic, and vandalism.

Early American cemeteries were anything but idyllic: crowded, wild, and sometimes desolate places. The afterlife of the spirit was accorded more importance than the fate of the body, which was simply to return to dust.

William Cullen Bryant wrote (1818)

. . . Naked rows of graves
And melancholy ranks of monuments
Are seen instead, where the coarse grass, between
Shoots up its dull spikes, and in the wind
Hisses, and the neglected bramble nigh,
Offers its berries to the schoolboy's hand

An early cemetery would thus have resembled a meadow, grazed by sheep. The Preservation Plan (pp. 32-33) recommends recreating something of this sort in a more manageable form: rehabilitating the Knoll floor by planting it with low hardy groundcovers, herbs, spring bulbs, and wildflowers, which would need to be mowed only once a year. By reducing the need for lawn care, we create a more sustainable landscape in all regards: reduced costs for Department of Public Works labor and materials, less risk of damage to graves and headstones from mechanical equipment.

We can already begin to imagine how the site will be transformed. The first plants that ATG put in last fall are now in bloom, and a second planting session is scheduled for mid-May.

The adjoining African-American section presents a different challenge. The history of Amherst's Black community is an old and distinguished one, though many graves are unmarked. Among the later graves are those of Henry Jackson, a prominent local teamster and probable conductor on the Underground Railroad, who was involved in the dramatic rescue of Angeline Palmer when her employers attempted to sell her into slavery in 1840.

Nearby are graves of Civil War soldiers, who fought in the famed Massachusetts 54th and other units.

Here, the Plan recommends planting, in place of the rather forlorn and struggling grass, shade-loving groundcovers. In addition, in order to minimize and manage foot traffic in an area containing so many unmarked graves, the Plan recommends a small path. An interpretive marker and bench in this quiet area of the Cemetery will allow visitors to learn about and contemplate the history of the community.

The Town Tomb area, part of the first expansion of the Cemetery, in 1833-69, presents a different feel, in keeping with the then fashionable "rural "or "park" cemetery movement, which sought to turn the former "burying grounds" into attractive places for contemplation of nature, mortality and the local patriotic heritage. Following reconstruction of the Tomb, the Plan (pp. 36-37) calls for a path to control foot traffic, new topsoil, groundcovers to stabilize and soften the landform, shrubs, and intermediate-sized trees to take the place of the mature specimens that will soon decline.


Doesn't this cost a lot? Can't the same thing be accomplished with volunteer work?

To answer in the succinct manner of DPW Chief Guilford Mooring: Yes. And No.

This is a complex, multiyear project, and as such, expensive.

Whenever possible, we seek outside funding, or donations in labor and materials. The costs represented here--based on detailed calculations by Town staff and three outside consulting firms, including the authors of the Plan--are low-end estimates and take into account the contributions of ATG.

To cite but one example: three intermediate-sized trees for the Tomb area cost nearly $ 1875, and plantings in that section alone could cost anywhere from $ 7475 to $ 13,475. Costs for the pathway could range from $ 4480 to $ 24,000, depending on choice of materials.


The new flowers on the 1730 Knoll give a hint of things to come.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our work on the Cemetery in the course of the past decade has been bringing this treasure to the attention of Amherst residents and tourists alike. This has been particularly noticeable in our 250th anniversary year, for example, on the occasion of the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee bus tour and the "Conversations with the Past" reenactments this month. Many was the person who said, "I've lived in Amherst for X number of years, and yet I had never been here," or "I had no idea that there was an African-American community and burial section here."

That is what historic preservation is about.

By bringing back the "Bloom and Bees" of which Emily Dickinson wrote, our projects will call proper attention to the history of the town and its diverse communities and restore not just the historic look and character of the landscape, but also an appropriate dignity and atmosphere.

West Cemetery Restoration: Ironwork and Town Tomb

Article 18 C: West Cemetery Ironwork (Cutler & Dickinson Plot fencing, Tomb door): $ 25,000
Article 18 D: West Cemetery Town Tomb Reconstruction: $ 30,000

Historic preservation projects are often complex and multifaceted and can therefore be categorized in a variety of ways, for example, depending on the nature of the asset in question or of the task or technology involved. Whenever possible, we seek to "bundle" together work of a similar technical nature in order to save time and money for the Town. Article 18C therefore bundles all metalwork together. At the same time, work on the Town Tomb appears not only here (by virtue of work on the iron door), but also under its own rubric (18D) for engineering, and in conjunction with overall landscape restoration (18 E).

Article 18C

Cutler and Dickinson Plot Ironwork

Fencing around the graves of members of a given family came into vogue in the early 19th century in conjunction with the new park cemetery movement, which sought to transform the stark "burying grounds" of the Colonial era into idyllic places of commemoration and contemplation. By the 1860s, such boundary markers were on the wane in many more modern cemeteries, seen as either elitist or unnecessary for protection. In Amherst, however, there were no formally acquired and designated plots until around this time: graves were dug as needed. In part for that reason, metal fences or stone coping were added to define the newly fashionable family sections. The plots of the Cutler and Dickinson families contain the only surviving cast iron fencing of this type, and even they are now endangered.

Both the Cutler and Dickinson ironwork have undergone notable deterioration in the decade since the creation of the West Cemetery Preservation Plan.

The Preservation Plan (p. 18) describes the Dickinson fencing as "structurally . . . in sound condition." That was in 1999. It goes on to warn, however (p. 19), "Most of the fence is rusting rapidly from lack of maintenance and the rate of corrosion is accelerating rapidly. If not restored and repainted soon, the fence will begin to deteriorate structurally as well." By 2009, this had come to pass: we can see that the fence is rusted and showing signs of decay, and portions of the horizontal rail are even delaminating, revealing splits through which daylight can readily be seen.

The Cutler Plot fencing is in even worse shape. Already in 1999, the Preservation Plan (p. 19) described it as "in a serious state of disrepair" and "seriously corroded," noting that "Many of the panels along two sides have either fallen down or are missing altogether." Today, only one side is still barely standing, with the others in pieces or missing altogether.

This is the result of the passage of but a decade in a cemetery that is nearly 280 years old.

Town Tomb

Simply put, "tombs" were the sites where communities stored the bodies of the deceased in the winter, when the ground was too frozen to dig. They typically take the form of a stone and/or masonry vault covered by a mound of earth, including (when finances and other conditions permitted) elegant stone facing and an iron door. The Amherst Tomb (1851), with its sober Egyptian Revival aesthetic, is a typical example, and a visual and historic anchor of the West Cemetery.

The Preservation Plan (p. 19) called for replacement of the Tomb door, which is "severely corroded" and compromised by what appear to be modern additions or repairs, including a patently ahistorical and "poorly designed" modern "locking mechanism."

Town Tomb door: detail showing gap and deterioration from rust

Article 18 D

The real defects of the Tomb are, however, structural. The Preservation Plan (pp. 19-20) finds few cracks or signs of leakage but notes a "dislodged fascia stone in the right front" and observes that "the cut stone veneer on the front wall is showing signs of structural distress," moving "away from the stone foundation walls behind," which has "opened up many of the joints," so that "Several of the panels are approaching the point of instability."

The deterioration is readily apparent a decade later. Squirrels live happily in the ample crevices, and the daylight is visible between the foundation and the fascia stones, which appear in imminent danger of collapse.

leaning fascia stones seen from the east

growing gap between fascia stones and foundation structure

the Tomb's only occupant today

A previous appropriation of $ 5000 from CPA funds will fund the prerequisite engineering study. This year's $ 30,000--a figure established by masonry specialists at Dorsey Monuments--will pay for labeling and disassembly of the structure, laying of new foundations, and reassembly of the structure.

Future plans include similar studies of the tombs in the other town cemeteries. The South Amherst tomb (1881) appears to be or less durable structure but in more stable condition.

South Amherst Cemetery Tomb (1881)

South Amherst Tomb (1881) detail

In order to achieve the maximum efficiency coupled with minimum cost and disruption, the engineering and reconstruction work on the Town Tomb will take place in conjunction with the first phase of the West Cemetery landscape restoration (Art. 18 E).