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History Notebook

Telling the family story

A perc of being a newsman or local historian is you get to meet a lot of interesting people and sometimes gain access that gives surprising results.
Various of my writings have explored the black experience in South Berkshire County, Mass. Through my research into the story of Great Barrington native William E.B. Du Bois, I got to know his adopted son, the late David Graham Du Bois, and his great-grandson, Arthur McFarlane II of Colorado. And last week, I enjoyed a dinner with another great-grandson, Jeff Peck of Houston, Texas.

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‘Green Book’

Academy Award voters declared “Green Book” the film of the year on Sunday, Feb. 24. That happened to be one of the few nominated movies I have seen. For some reason, my picture attendance has run mostly to bio-pics. I thought Rami Malek captured Freddie Mercury’s drive in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I admired two non-nominees, John C. Reilly as the fading but determined Hardy in “Stan & Ollie” and Tom Waits as the shot-through prospector in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”

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Solving little mysteries in local history

Who first said “a photo is worth a thousand words”? I doubt the phrase emerged in the caveman era — then it would have been “one stone scratching is worth three grunts and a whistle.”
Serious wordsmiths say the phrase came into usage with slight variation in the early 1800s.
A photo can help us visualize how something long gone functioned; how someone dressed; what an interesting event looked like; where a road once went.

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Simenon in Lakeville

A one-time Lakeville resident, the Belgian author Georges Simenon (1903-1989), has landed a new generation of fans.
Penguin Classics is reissuing the entire series of Inspector Jules Maigret crime books in new translations. 
Maigret figured in 76 novels and 28 short stories published between 1931 and 1972.

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Post riders of yore

John Saunders, who carried newspapers and mail from Hartford to Litchfield, had enough of the merciless job and gave notice in April 1794.
“For the want of health and money the subscriber is obliged to resign the benefits of Post-riding after this number, into the hands of Mr. Jonathan Woodworth of Litchfield,” Saunders said in a notice published in the Hartford Courant for April 28, 1794.
Saunders asked that his customers settle up.

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Salisbury’s other Cannon

Salisbury is known for the cannon cast at the time of the American Revolution.
But the town has another Cannon in its history: William C. Cannon.
Born in Andover, N.Y., Cannon (1873-1971) graduated from Harvard Law School and beginning in Buffalo in 1900 practiced law for 71 years.
He was a claims attorney for the Erie Railroad then joined Davis, Polk and Wardwell in 1906, becoming a partner in the Manhattan law firm in 1915.  

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Bad roads in old Sharon

With the arrival of the automobile age in the early 1900s, there was increased traffic between Manhattan and the resort community Lenox in western Massachusetts.
Motorists drove north from the city to Poughkeepsie,  veered to Amenia and Sharon, then cruised to Salisbury and through Sheffield to Stockbridge and beyond. They went the reverse route to home.

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Another revolutionary Allen

The Allen brothers of Revolutionary War fame are something like the Marx Brothers of the movies. Everyone remembers Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo but forgets Gummo. With the Allens, Ethan is the famous one; Ira and Heman were equally audacious in Vermont history. But who remembers Zimri?

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Ice facts

The ice jam that formed on the Housatonic River in Kent last weekend is one of many that have occurred in the last few days across the Northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania — the result of the deep freeze at year’s end, followed by a rapid thaw and heavy rain.  In Roxbury, Conn., an ice dam on the Shepaug River (a tributary of the Housatonic) reportedly caused the river to back up and cut a new channel through a farm field.

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Mrs. A.M. Dodge, anti-suffragist

Josephine Jewell Dodge (1855-1928) was a staunch pro-childcare, anti-women’s suffrage crusader. From her homes on Park Avenue in New York City, and in Simsbury, Conn., and in the Weatogue section of Salisbury, she enjoyed comfortable travel in the early 1900s in  her Hotchkiss limousine, in which chauffeur F. Reilly drove her hither and thither.
The Hotchkiss, parenthetically, was an automobile manufactured from 1903 to 1955 in France by Hotchkiss et Cie, a subsidiary of the Sharon, Conn., Hotchkiss armaments titans.

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