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New Collection Added to Digital Commons: Letters from the Relief Effort after the Great Fire of 1866

posted: , by Gabrielle Daniello
tags: Adults | Portland History
Telegram sent from Boston's Lamp Department to the Mayor of Portland

Telegram sent from Boston’s Lamp Department to the Mayor of Portland

 

“The oil will go by boat with agent this afternoon & Mr. Hibbard will go by rail Tuesday morning to light your streets tomorrow night.”

These are the words that the Clerk of Boston’s Lamp Department telegraphed to the mayor of Portland on July 9, 1866, just several days after the devastating fire of 1866 wiped out most of Portland’s downtown and left about 10,000 people homeless.

Stereoscopic view of Portland after the fire of 1866, taken by John P. Soule

Stereoscopic view of Portland after the fire of 1866, taken by John P. Soule

This telegram is part of a remarkable collection that is housed in the library’s Portland Room. The collection, Relief for the Portland Sufferers: The Great Fire, 1866, documents the relief effort that was carried out in the wake of the conflagration. Mayors of towns and cities around the country, as well as individuals, wrote letters and sent telegrams to Augustus E. Stevens, Portland’s mayor, to express their sympathy and to offer help. Donations ranged from $1 (“which may aid some suffering family. I earned it cleaning the snow off the sidewalks last winter”) to thousands of dollars from organized relief funds. People also sent food, clothing, and other goods and services, like the Boston lamplighter’s offer to light the darkened streets of the city. Among the goods donated: a chest of oolong tea, a case of forks and knives, three train car-loads of lumber, 1000 feet of hose for the Fire Company, a supply of disinfectant.

Other people wrote to inquire about work opportunities, hoping to be hired to help rebuild the city. Still others inquired after family and friends. A little girl named Annie wrote this on behalf of her little sister, Alice: “PS Alice says that if you know “Suzy” and “Prudy Paslin,” give the money to them if they have been burned out.”

The collection includes hundreds of documents. A small selection has been digitized and can be seen here:

http://digitalcommons.portlandlibrary.com/great_fire_relief/

Copies of some of the letters and telegrams are on display in the Portland Room, along with the black metal box in which the documents were stored for years, tightly rolled up, before Portland Room staff found them and rehoused them in archival folders and boxes. We invite you to come up and see them for yourself!

The Portland Room is open Monday-Thursday 10-7 and Friday 10-6.


Choose Civility and Constitution Week!

posted: , by Kim Simmons
tags: Programs & Events | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Business | Government | Portland History

The topic of civil discourse has emerged as a central concern in Maine and the Nation, during the past several years.  MPBN recently held its annual “Civility in Politics” call-in show, Colby College held a summit on the topic “Civil : The Way Politics Should Be”  (listen to the rebroadcast on MPBN) and the Maine Council of Churches has called for candidates to sign a “covenant of civil discourse.”  Much of this emphasis is on civility as respect and integrity in conversation.  Sometimes, calls for civility are used to discourage challenging conversation, but the best civic discourse allows a pathway for the most difficult conversations to occur productively,

Another way to think about civil discourse is that it is conversation meant to  promote a stronger Democracy.  In that way, civility is about giving people the information, tools and skills they need to understand community issues. Civics involves claiming the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship (defined broadly).  Civil discourse involves understanding how public issues and policy decisions effect people differently and understanding the various arguments or ideas surrounding an issue.  Libraries hold a unique role in promoting civility, in that access to good information is essential to a free society.

At Portland Public Library, the “Choose Civility” initiative is not a mandate — that’s not how library’s roll – but instead an invitation to join in a community-wide reflection on what civility means in different contexts, what conditions promote civic engagement, what obstacles prevent us from participating in our communities as fully as we might like. We have great books and films, a lot of programming, and a lot of gratitude –  to the Lerner Foundation for their support of this work, and to all those who are attending public conversation programs, sharing your stories and listening with respect and curiosity to others.

This fall, we are hoping that you will join us for an even deeper look at what it means to be a community and what we can all do to promote civility in our everyday lives and in our organizations.

Portland Public Conversations

Coffee & Networking 7:30am

Program 8:00am – 10:00am

September 3oth: Portland’s People, Who Lives Among Us?

Portland’s People: Who Lives Among Us?
Portland’s People: Who Lives Among Us? (Main Library 8am, doors open at 7:30) – In 2004, Journalist Bill Bishop coined the phrase “The Big Sort” to describe growing segregation, both physical and intellectual, in the USA.  10 years later, political scientists agree that this phenomena is growing.  How are we sorted in Greater Portland and what can we learn from crossing divides?  This program will include an opportunity to reflect on the most current Census Data about our demographics and to engage in an exploration of stories and perceptions about each other with director of the Office of Minority Health Lisa Sockabasin.  Ample time will be allowed for facilitated table conversation.  Click here for our flyer: Choose Civility Portland Conversations – See more at: http://www.portlandlibrary.com/highlight/choose-civility/#sthash.3uuejQEg.dpuf

November 25th: Participating Portland, Opportunities to Get Involved!

December 9th: Picturing Portland, Visioning Our Shared Future

September 30th :  Portland’s People: Who Lives Among Us? (Main Library 8am, doors open at 7:30) – In 2004, Journalist Bill Bishop coined the phrase “The Big Sort” to describe growing segregation, both physical and intellectual, in the USA.  10 years later, political scientists agree that this phenomena is growing.  How are we sorted in Greater Portland and what can we learn from crossing divides?  This program will include an opportunity to reflect on the most current Census Data about our demographics and to engage in an exploration of stories and perceptions about each other with director of the Office of Minority Health Lisa Sockabasin.  Ample time will be allowed for facilitated table conversation.  Click here for our flyer: Choose Civility Portland Conversations

Save the following dates for more in our series: 
November 25th:  Participating Portland: Practical Opportunities to Get Involved
December 9th : Picturing Portland: Visioning Our Shared Future

- See more at: http://www.portlandlibrary.com/highlight/choose-civility/#sthash.3uuejQEg.dpuf

September 30th :  Portland’s People: Who Lives Among Us? (Main Library 8am, doors open at 7:30) – In 2004, Journalist Bill Bishop coined the phrase “The Big Sort” to describe growing segregation, both physical and intellectual, in the USA.  10 years later, political scientists agree that this phenomena is growing.  How are we sorted in Greater Portland and what can we learn from crossing divides?  This program will include an opportunity to reflect on the most current Census Data about our demographics and to engage in an exploration of stories and perceptions about each other with director of the Office of Minority Health Lisa Sockabasin.  Ample time will be allowed for facilitated table conversation.  Click here for our flyer: Choose Civility Portland Conversations

Save the following dates for more in our series: 
November 25th:  Participating Portland: Practical Opportunities to Get Involved
December 9th : Picturing Portland: Visioning Our Shared Future

- See more at: http://www.portlandlibrary.com/highlight/choose-civility/#sthash.3uuejQEg.dpuf

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Maine Reader’s Choice Award

posted: , by Jim Charette
tags: About the Library | Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Seniors

maine reader's choice awardWe’re coming down to the wire in the final days of voting for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award, 2014! Book lovers across the state are invited to vote by September 15, 2014 for a favorite novel that has been nominated for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award.

The four finalists for this year’s award are:

TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann

Benediction, by Kent Haruf

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

We asked staff members for their thoughts on the four (very) different novels…

Sam S holding transatlanticScience and Technology Team Leader Samantha S tackled a review of Colum McCann’s wonderful TransAtlantic:
“TransAtlantic is a beautiful ode to Ireland – its landscape, people, language, problems, and history. The novel begins with a story about the first flight across the Atlantic. The rest of the pages involve lives that are interrelated, whether through family or acquaintance, and in each chapter McCann follows a different person that is somehow connected to every other person in the story…A pair of flyboys try to cross the Atlantic just after WWI in a dangerous technical feat; runaway and activist Frederick Douglas takes refuge in Ireland as he waits for supporters to purchase his freedom; an Irish immigrant to the US marries a man in the business of harvesting ice; and, yes, they all do fit together so perfectly that they require no literary mortar to hold their place in the larger whole. It is not until the end of the book that every relationship is made clear.

Nowhere is McCann’s talent more on display then in the most pedestrian and contemporary story, which follows former Senator George Mitchell as he makes his way to Ireland for negotiations. Perhaps you don’t imagine that sitting at JFK in the VIP lounge as an aging Senator ponders hearth and home, the joys of tea, and avoiding looking too long at a hostess’s derriere could be worth reading? Maybe in the hands of a lesser author you’d be correct, but McCann’s lyrical words make even the most mundane moments come alive with truth.

McCann is an author to savor, an Irish poet in the greatest tradition of that term, and the sooner you begin the journey that is reading his work, the sooner you will open your eyes to an author who just keeps getting better and better.”

From Ireland to Holt, Colorado…Finalist Kent Haruf’s Benediction
Benediction is the third book in his haunting, nuanced “Plainsong” trilogy. Haruf’s deft, stark prose sails off the page:
“That was on a night in August. Dad Lewis died early that morning and the young girl Alice from next door got lost in the evening and then found her way home in the dark by the streetlights of town and so returned to the people who loved her. And in the fall the days turned cold and the leaves dropped off the trees and in the winter the wind blew from the mountains and out on the high plains of Holt County there were overnight storms and three-day blizzards.”

Jessica with GoldfinchSetting down Haruf’s frank meditation on the final reflections of a dying man…we arrive, almost inevitably, at best-selling author Donna Tartt’s latest and heftiest of tomes: The Goldfinch. Here’s the review from Tech Services manager Jessica T at the Main Library:

The Goldfinch, Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, eleven years in the making, is an atmospheric page turner that has stirred up a fair amount of literary controversy. Both praised and panned as Dickensian, it is an ornately scripted tale of the aftermath of a terrorist attack at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tartt’s flawed, charismatic characters are unreliable narrators who propel the suspenseful narrative as they dance in and out of danger in pursuit and possession of the titular painting. Sure, it’s probably a little too long at 700+ pages, but it includes passages like this one to savor:

‘Unsteadily, I got up and went to the window. Bells, bells. The streets were white and deserted. Frost glittered on tiled rooftops; outside, on the Herengracht, snow danced and flew. A flock of black birds was cawing and swooping over the canal, the sky was hectic with them, great sideways sweeps and undulations as a single, intelligent body, eddying to and fro, and their movement seemed to pass into me on almost a cellular level, white sky and whirling snow and the fierce gusting wind of poets.’ “

If you didn’t spend last winter curled up with The Goldfinch, isn’t it a relief to know that hundreds and hundreds of pages patiently await you this coming snowy season?

Our final (and succinct sadie with the golem & the jinni
review-in-a snapshot!) comes from our four-legged friend, Sadie (side-kick of Kathleen, Head of Access Services). A creaturely review is appropriate for a stunning debut novel—Helene Wecker’s bright, enchanting “The Golem and the Jinni,”—whose Jinni hero and Golem heroine are also inhuman, but grappling with their own fantastical, unique natures, and what it means for them to exist in this world. Sadie weighs in most favorably:

“Clay…Fire…two elemental spirits born into the maelstrom of 1899 New York…Two paws up!!”

Have your own thoughts on these four books? Follow this link to vote by September 15 for your own favorite pick for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award 2014.

And if you’re curious about the long list for the awards—or you’re looking for a new book to read—check out all the titles that were considered by the awards committee here.

–Elizabeth, City of Readers Team

 

 

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