Saturday, April 30, 2011

Unalienable Rights

Connecticut's history lovers are currently swept up in the Civil War, which started 150 years ago, but at the moment I am thinking about the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence and slavery (which, of course, is more closely associated with the Civil War than the Revolutionary War, but was still going strong in Connecticut during the 1770s).

Earlier this week I gave a tour of downtown Waterbury to a group from Naugatuck Valley Community College. The tour was based on one I originally created while working on the Fortune's Story project at the Mattatuck Museum several years ago, telling the story of Waterbury's first African Americans at the end of the 1700s.

Giving the tour brought me back to something I haven't look at in a while, the story of Joseph Munn, who was brought to Waterbury in 1773 as the slave of William Nichols, whose father, brother and brother-in-law were also slave owners.

Although held in slavery, Munn enlisted as a private in the Continental army in 1776, in Col. Thaddeus Cook's regiment which fought in both battles at Saratoga. Munn served in the army through the entire war, risking his health and life to fight for the new nation's independence.

In 1780, Joseph Munn, still in the army, petitioned the Connecticut General Assembly to free him from slavery. William Nichols, a Loyalist, had fled to Nova Scotia.

Joseph Munn's petition is in the Collection of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives  in Hartford.

The opening paragraph of Munn's petition is incredibly powerful, a plea not just for his own freedom, but an argument against the very existence of slavery and inequality:

“The Petition of Joseph Munn, a poor African Humbly sheweth that your unfortunate Petitioner, while but a Child, was Snatched by the hand of Fraud and violence from his Native Land and all his dear Connexions and brought into this Land, and notwithstanding by the Constitution of the Great Parent of the Universe who hath made of one blood all Nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, he was in Common with others entitled to Freedom and the unalienable rights of Humanity, yet in Violation thereof he was Sold a Slave for Life....”

It gives me chills every time I read it. Munn's petition shows an understanding of the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal") to a degree that perhaps goes beyond the intentions of its signers but that can't be ignored. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most revolutionary and important documents of our era, and its principal concepts continue to resonate throughout the world. Joseph Munn's petition is an early example of the power of the Declaration of Independence.

Maybe part of what gives me the chills is that it was not obvious at the time, not actually "self-evident", that all men are of "one blood", that we are all equal. The world had centuries, even millennia, of history in which some people considered themselves inherently superior and others inherently inferior.

Joseph Munn, after four years of fighting for America's freedom, stood up and declared that he too was "entitled to Freedom and the unalienable rights of Humanity."

For more of Munn's story, visit the Mattatuck Museum's Fortune's Story website.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Springtime Color

Gorgeous weather today, even a bit too hot and humid. I took advantage of the rare sunshine to take photos of the spring flowers and budding leaves. I missed the cherry tree blossoms on Park Place--they were in their glory last week--but here are sample shots of how Waterbury was looking today.

First up, my weeping cherry tree:

The view on Walnut Street.

Flowering trees and green lawn at the Brass Mill Center mall:

San Marino restaurant:

The west end of Grand Street:

Father McGivney, preaching to the flowers:

Tulips flowering in planters on Grand Street:

Tulip Lovers--don't forget the Tulip Festival in Fulton Park on May 1st!

More Grand Street tulips:

Pastel greens of new leaves:

The fountain in front of City Hall, once again a fountain:

Not a sign of spring, but too cool to ignore. Awesome hood ornament on a car parked in front of City Hall today:

Magnolia next to the Chase Building:

People enjoying a little bit of shade on Church Street:

Veterans' Memorial monument on the Green:

Flowering trees in front of the rectory building of Immaculate Conception:

Back around to Grand and Leavenworth Streets:

Across from the Grand Street Post Office:

It was a great day for eating lunch outdoors:

Landscaping at CL&P on Freight Street:


MacDermid, across from CL&P:

Now for some shots at Chase Park. While I was there, a man asked if I was taking photos to show how the park needs upgrades--meanwhile, I was thinking it would be nice if there were a park like this on top of Long Hill.

Riverside Cemetery:

West Main Street. During the summer, I wish these little trees were big enough to provide shade. Right now, though, they are showing their merits.

And finally, some little flowers in the lawn of the BPO Elks Club on West Main Street:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Campaign Season

Remember three months ago, when I complained that streets hadn't been fully plowed during the January snow storms, causing dangerous situations for drivers and pedestrians? Remember how I was told that I was being unfair? Remember how the Mayor declared that it was unreasonable to expect people to keep one side of the city streets free from parked cars during storms?

Well, now it's spring and the city has to clean all the winter sand off the streets. In order to do so, the city requires that all cars, on both sides of the road, be removed to make way for the street sweepers. Any car in the way will be towed.

How to interpret this... Let's see.

1. It is more important to clean the sand off the streets than to remove snow from the streets.
(This assumes that the city will actually enforce the parking ban during street sweeping.)

2. The city is run by a system of chaos, disorder and total lack of consistency. The Mayor has no ability, or perhaps simply no interest, in effective management of city services.

I'm leaning towards Interpretation 2.

In the past ten years that Jarjura has been Mayor, the city's financial standing and credit rating have improved dramatically. This is a good thing.

On the other hand, city services have languished. There have been no improvements to city services, even though our taxes have been increased. There has been no indication that the current administration wants to improve city services.

In this election year, it seems that what city residents want most is improved city services for improved quality of life and a more beautiful and pedestrian-friendly city.  Will Jarjura continue to base his campaigning on his fiscal record, or will he switch his focus to the address the concerns of the citizens? For that matter, where do the other candidates stand on these issues?

This is one of those things that makes me realize just how far I've come. Once upon a time, I had no idea how city government functioned and no idea how to decide which candidates to vote for. Now I actually download the proposed budget, read through it, and try to figure out ways to save money and improve services. I pay attention to what candidates say and what they do--and I am increasingly left thinking I can do just as well, if not better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clean Up Week

Back in 1919, the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce began an annual "clean up and plant" campaign in April. As described in The Hartford Courant (April 18, 1920), it would have been called a "city beautiful" campaign, but that sounded too high-brow.

The campaign was broken into two parts, one week each. During the first week, everyone in the city was expected to make sure their front and back yards were clean and tidy (and to make sure their neighbor's front and back yards were also clean and tidy). This first week was Clean Up Week.

The second week, beginning right around April 18, was Spring Planting Week.

The two-week campaign was sponsored by the Chamber's City Improvement Committee, chaired by William T. Manning.

Advertisements in the 1920 City Directory.

During Spring Planting Week, the Committee distributed thousands of seeds, shrubs and trees to city residents for planting in their yards. Some of the plantings were donated to the Chamber for the cause, others were purchased with money donated by the city's wealthier residents, who wanted to encourage the success of the program.

Trees, shrubs and seeds were distributed from the Chamber's headquarters on Field Street. The only condition for receiving the free plantings was to agree to follow the printed directions for the care of the plants.

The first year of the program (1919), the Committee handed out 10,000 shrubs, 6000 packages of flower sees and 3000 trees. Just imagine! Three thousands trees, ten thousand shrubs, free! This goes a long way towards explaining how our city became so filled with greenery.

The second year (1920), there were 12,000 evergreen trees, 6000 shrubs and 50,000 packages of flower seeds. Each applicant was restricted to a choice of two evergreens, one other tree, two shrubs, one rose bush and two packages of flower seeds.

 An old pine tree on Wolcott Street--could it have been one of the Chamber's free plants?

Available plants included evergreens, white spruce, koster spruce, white pine, Austrian pine, Scotch pine, Lombardy poplar, arbor vitae, forsythia, honeysuckle, red twig dogwood, flowering currant, overgreen vine, purple and white lilac, apple tree, barbary, aralia shrub, kerria shrub and Boston ivy.

Not all of the plants were good choices for the long run--for example, today arborists caution against the Lombardy poplar, because it is prone to many problems and does not last very long.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

History Mystery

At the Cass Gilbert symposium held this morning at the Mattatuck Museum, a mystery was raised by the presenters. The front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, under the pediment, is engraved with the phrase "Equal Justice Under Law".

The Associate Curator of the U.S. Supreme Court, Matthew D. Hofstedt, informed us that the origin of the phrase is currently unknown. A quick Google search turns up a Wikipedia page dedicated to theories about the origin of the phrase, but (not too surprising) Wikipedia doesn't have the answer. The Wikipedia page has been recently updated to make reference to the stencil over the entrance to the Veteran's Memorial chamber in the Waterbury City Hall. The stencil leads one to believe that the phrase was created by Cass Gilbert.

As pointed out by the experts in attendance today (Barbara Christen and Robert Gryzwacz), we don't have any documentation to prove that the stencil dates from 1915--it could have been added later.

I can't resist a challenge like this. No one knows? Really? Ooooo! Let me do some research!

What I discovered is not at all surprising. Cass Gilbert, who added quotes from Abraham Lincoln to several places in the Waterbury City Hall building, got this phrase from Lincoln.

I found a reference to it in an 1883 publication by The Chautauqua Institute, which pretty clearly attributes it to Lincoln. Unfortunately, they don't cite their source, so I don't know which speech or letter it comes from. And a search on the Library of Congress database of Lincoln's papers doesn't turn it up. But I'll keep digging!

UPDATE 4/12/2011: The word is that the inscription in City Hall is not original, that it was added during the 2010 renovation. Additionally, (as pointed out to me by Matthew Hofstedt) even though the title page of the above-mentioned Chautauqua Institute book on Google Books is for an 1883 publication, the portion containing the phrase is from a speech written in 1936.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Building the Future

This Saturday, April 9th, the Mattatuck Museum will be hosting a special program that should be of interest to anyone involved in efforts to revitalize Waterbury. There was a similar event in 2007, before the City Hall project started, making this one a nice bookend.

Text below is reprinted from the Mattatuck Museum.

Cass Gilbert and the Future of Downtown Waterbury
The taxpayers of Waterbury spent $35.9m to restore what many call the most beautiful building in the state, our City Hall. How can civic leaders, business people, and city residents build on this great accomplishment to attract new business, new residents, and new jobs?

Join us as Allen Plattus, professor of architecture and urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture;  Dr. Barbara Christen, co-editor of Cass Gilbert, Life and Work: Architect of the Public Domain; Matt Hofstedt, Associate Curator of the U.S. Supreme Court and Kevin Taylor, Waterbury Development Corporation discuss how we can learn from American cities that have used their historic buildings to reinvent their city centers. 

Program: 9:00am-12:15pm
Lunch break: 12:15-1:00pm (lunch is included in the cost of the event)
Tours of City Hall for symposium participants only: 1:00-2:00pm

April 9th, 2011
9:00 AM   -   12:30 PM
144 West Main Street
Waterbury, CT 06702
United States
Phone: 203 753-0381 ext 10
Members $ 15.00
Non-members $ 20.00

Saturday, April 02, 2011

One Week Left!

The latest exhibit at the Freight Street Gallery, That's Women's Work, will up for one more week. They'll be open this Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and they'll be open on Sunday, April 10 for the Closing Reception, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Freight Street Gallery is, not surprisingly, located on Freight Street. It's a classic example of artists making good use of old factory buildings.

Freight Street Gallery is also open tonight, starting at 8 pm., for a Kath Bloom performance.

The current exhibit ha a wide range of artistic styles, with work by only women: Allison Lonegan, Becka Schoedel, Caitlyn Olsen, Dora Sambuco, Jamie Arabolos, Jodi Brown, Lip Gloss Crisis, Lisa Havis, Mary Anne McCarthy, Muriel Radocchio, nikki juchem, and Pam Bogert.