Today's History Highlights Archive

Charlotte’s Web, Stonewall Destruction and Bicycling Firsts in Today’s History Highlights – 9.6.2013

Why E. B. White Wrote Charlotte’s Web. Animals were a weakness for New Yorker writer E.B. White, who wrote the revered children’s novel Charlotte’s Web in 1952. It’s the story of a barn spider named Charlotte who saves the life of a pig named Wilbur who’s about to be slaughtered. Just before the book was published, White’s editor asked him to tell the marketing department why he wrote the book.  The Maine Historical Society shared with us the reply written by White, who owned a farm in Brooklin, Maine, on Deer Isle. He wrote, in part: “A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are to be murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely, but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through the summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing.” You can read the whole letter here at 22 Words.

Royall House and Slave Quarters. An out-of-the-way historic house museum in Medford, Mass., was the home of the Royall family in the mid-18th century. They were the largest slaveholders in the colony. The slave quarters are believed to be the largest freestanding slave quarters in the northern United States. Tour guides didn’t mention that 25 years ago, focusing on the wealthy Loyalist founder. Now the Royall House and Slave Quarters is known for its depiction of slavery in Massachusetts.

The first 100-mile bicycle race ever held in the United States was conducted today in 1882. The race participants rode from Worcester to Boston on their high-wheelers. In the day, Boston was the home of many bicycling firsts, as Mass Moments reports: the nation’s first bicycle club, first race, first indoor riding rinks, and first mass-produced bicycle — Albert Pope’s “Columbia.”


Today’s Flashback photo shows a Stamford, Conn., road crew in the process of crushing old stonewalls to make them into roads. Seriously. The city bought a rock crusher in 1909 for $2,011 to save money on road building. The Guide to Nature magazine explains the rationale: “Everywhere in New England there are plenty of stone walls but in many places there are not good roads. So, as the old-fashioned saying goes, why not let one hand wash the other; that is grind up a few of the stone walls and improve some of the roads? Far be it from us to advocate banishing all the picturesque stone walls, but there is no danger of doing that, for a few stone walls go a long way in making enduring roads.” The photo was taken sometime between 1909 and 1914. At the time of the article, eight miles of roads were built. The Stamford Historical Society reports the following streets were made from stonewalls: Hope Street, from North Springdale to the Glenbrook trolley junction, and Crescent Street and Courtland Avenue, Glenbrook, Newfield Avenue, Belltown Road and Oaklawn Road.

Flashback Photo…

Workers reducing stonewalls to roadbeds

Workers reducing stonewalls to roadbeds

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