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One man's thoughts on NH history and
the meaning of life in our 375th year.

JULY 1998

July 30
On that video I mentioned yesterday is an amazing little clip. It comes at the end of a series of silent movie newsreels. We see the last span of the Memorial Bridge being moved into position in 1923. Then we are at the entrance to the bridge, the same one that still rises up and down daily, allowing ships to go under and cars to drive across. In the film, a five year old girl in a white dress, encouraged by her mother, cuts a giant ribbon to open the bridge. That girl, they tell me, is our own former Mayor Eileen Foley, daughter of another former mayor Mrs. Dondero. Now it all makes sense. The genesis of Mrs. Foley's political ambitions can be seen in her gleeful face as she skips from the scene and a herd of local schoolchildren stampede across the new high-tech bridge. I love that bridge and cross it back and forth almost every day. No matter how badly a day has gone, I can always find myself on that bridge. Now, we are told, the bridge will be 75 years old next month. It is one of the finest structures in Portsmouth, and as ragged and covered with bird droppings as it may sometimes appear, it's link to Kittery is the umbilical cord that nourished modern Portsmouth.

July 29
Sometimes I go for days without looking at a newspaper or listening to the radio. I have no TV. So imagine my surprise when I saw Teddy Roosevelt in an antique convertible staring out from the front page of morning paper as I passed Federal Cigar this morning. Chautauqua is in town! Teddy brought along a few friends. I mean, how often do we get to talk with Eleanor Roosevelt and John Dos Passos at The Bagelry? The hard working actors, playing Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, WEB Dubois and others are actually scholars who know their way around their characters. But apparently the faux Teddy was stumped yesterday when someone asked why he had not attended the Treaty of Portsmouth conference here in 1905. "I didn't?" Teddy reportedly said. Then I learned of an old newsreel that actually shows the delegation in a very early film. I managed to locate a copy on video and it is a haunting reel indeed, to see hundreds of troops marching through Portsmouth, and the Russian and Japanese delegation live in front of Wentworth by the Sea. Teddy got a lot of credit for the event, but he is nowhere to be seen in the movies. It took almost a century, but looks like the Rough Rider finally made it to the town he put on the map.

July 28
The history callers are picking up and I'm getting a wee bit inundated. My office phone rings all day and it's not uncommon that I blab on for an hour to a person who has contacted me out of the blue on some topic of interest. One family is doing an oral history and I've become a technical consultant on how to set up tape recorders, buy microphones and trick Aunt Mildred into spilling the family secrets. A fascinating local found a middle archaic Indian stone gouge in his back yard that appears to date from 6,000 years ago. Another group wants to restore an historic cemetery. A group in Boston wants to get a site going like this one, but bigger. I was in contact with a guy in Hawaii who moved to Colorado and is putting old shipwreck reports into hypertext. A woman in, I think Somersworth, found some old tintypes showing scenes from the Civil War. A couple in Virginia has an old flag that supposedly came from Portsmouth. A guy sent a photo of an old rail road spike. I would say not a day goes by without a new communication, and each one is as fascinating as the one before. A friend summed up my life pretty well the other day. "You are mired in distraction," he said, shaking his head. He's right, and I'm enjoying every distracting day.

July 26
The history world is a strange one. The people who have the real knowledge, the grants and doctoral degrees, move very slowly. They do the job right, digging for details, fitting the pieces of the past together like engineers building a bridge. Then all those years of work disappear into a thesis or a monograph of a big thick report that sits on some shelf. If the academic is lucky, there' s a book in the deal, but it isn't likely to reach many readers in the world outside the ivy tower. Then you have your reporters, web site authors, trolley car drivers, ferry operators, ghostly tour guides, docents, balladeers, historic house interpreters, even school teachers. These people are out telling the stories of our past to anyone who will listen. I try to be as accurate as possible, but I miss a lot, hoping readers will catch my mistakes. Paul, on the Seacoast Trolley, works very hard to double-check his facts. Journalists cover the whole spectrum, from downright inaccurate to super anal accurate types. On the shoals ferry the other day I had to wince at the inaccurate details being passed on to riders, but I prefer any story to no history at all. And I do not want to start a fact war. It's just too bad the people who know the facts are so far removed from the thousands of people around here starving for details. It's a funny system we've got.

July 25
Too much! These summer weekends offer more than a mind can choose from. Today there's the history tour in Rye. Most ancient homes there are privately owned and this is the chance to peak into a dozen, including the 1730 Seavey House and 1600s family graveyard, now restored by the new owners. This is the 31st Stratham Fair, the best in the Seacoast. I've been to maybe 10 of them and once even accompanied the Stratham Fair Queen. Now they've started this Newmarket Heritage weekend. I lived there for two years and have a passion for the stone factory buildings. I haunted the old Stone Church bar when it first opened, across from the old historical society building at the top of the hill downtown. The Lamprey River, which runs in a trickle from its head end near Candia is a fascinating little river which opens at Newmarket and is pulled to the sea. It was one of my favorite put-ins when I used to get the rowing shell out on a perfect summer day like today. What to do, where to go?

July 24
Hats off to Thom Hindle. People know him as a trustee of the historic Woodman Institute, as Dover's Citizen of the year, but for all the times we've spoken on the phone I'd never ventured inside his studio until today. His collection of more than 100,000 old glass photo negatives is mind boggling. Over the years Thom has obtained and preserved the collections of 38 New England photographers. He prints, tints and frames them, and the crowded Dover studio is more intriguing than half the historic houses. His one-man archive rivals many university collections and he can tell you the story of any pictures you point out -- that zeppelin, this state fair, the old hotel, a family portrait. If Americans valued historic preservation the way they love violence, Thom Hindle would be Rambo. Alone, in the trenches, armed only with toxic chemicals and archival paper, Hindle stalks the auctions and family attics, seeking out and saving tidbits of a lost world. He is ruthlessly caring, frighteningly precise, dangerously dedicated in his campaign to protect our past. We've got it all wrong. This country has way too many Stallones, Eastwoods, Bronsons and Schwartzenegers -- and way too few Hindles.

July 23
Everyone wants to be related to famous people. In my family, we grew up being told that Calvin Coolidge and Davy Crockett were our blood ancestors. It seemed a perfect genetic pool for the shy trailblazer I imagined myself to be. But it seems we were dead wrong, or at least the blood was so distant as to be genealogically anemic. What was important, however, was the myth of the blood so deeply embedded in our sense of us. I get a letter every few weeks (see Read Our Mail) from people who swear they are related to John Paul Jones. Each, of course, is a Jones, and none is related to JPJ who was, himself, not a Jones by blood. It was an assumed name he took, possibly to avoid a sticky murder trial. He had no kids. What I have noticed, however, is that no one wants to know the truth. They are often resentful when I cut short their quest with the facts. Facts are not the point. It is all about our need for importance in the blood. But last week I met two real relatives, the daughter of my local film hero Louis deRochement and the great granddaughter of Lucy Hale. I have written at length about both their namesakes and the thrill was all mine. Something of value lives in the blood and I hope these interesting women will let us know more about their intriguing family members.

July 21
I've never much paid heed to historic birthplaces. I mean, what's so famous about any baby? My birthplace is in a city I've never seen much of since, not that I or anyone give s a hoot.. If the famous person grew up there, perhaps, like the Franklin Peirce homestead, well that's another thing. President Peirce returned to his dad's tavern/home again and again and it makes a fine tour today. But yesterday I noted in "The Sandpiper" that Celia Thaxter was born on Daniel Street in Portsmouth. The book by her granddaughter Rosamund shows the buildings now occupied by City and Country and The Szechuan Taste. The caption says Celia was born in the former, long before it sold chic pots and pans. It's hard to tell even if it is the same building. If it is, some say, it deserves a plaque. Now plaques are cool, and it can never hurt to remind people that Celia lived in town as well as on the Isles of Shoals. Celia would probably have loved all those classy kitchen appliances. Even when her fame brought in money, Celia complained that her husband Levi made her cook every meal and would not allow her to get a maid, even if she paid for one herself. I think I'm drifting.

July 20
Well, I thought I'd seen the Seacoast from every perspective possible -- by trolley, bicycle, horse cart, hay wagon, highway bridge, ferry, foot, rowing shell, gundalow, sailboat, helicopter, private plane, church tower and treetop. That's when Marcia came rumbling into town. Thirty years back we had a little high school crush. Now she's got a reconstructed 25 year old Harley with marbleized tromp d' ceil fenders. Sunday was a glorious day, and in full leather she arrived from her geodesic dome somewhere in the NH mountains. I got the backseat. "Move when I move!" she instructed. "Don't throw me off." That seemed like good advice, so I managed a calm death grip on the padded chrome and we were off, as my father always says, like a herd of buffaloes. I can't say I have any enduring affection for the muffler-deprived lunatics who hotrod up our city streets all summer, but sometimes you just gotta go with the flow. We stampeded our way around the New Castle loop, me screaming historic factoids in Marcia's ear and praying no giant Junebug would hit me like a sniper's bullet. We did the Ice House thing, leaned sharply left and right on the winding road home, then she disappeared into the waning light like something from Terminator 2. A minute later I was back reading Whittier ballads in a silent old office, unaltered except for a lingering tremor whenever my hand hit the page.

July 18
Today Tim and I released a new web page about a famous Hampton shipwreck in which members of the Philbrick family were drowned in a freak storm in 1657. To celebrate, we went out into the Piscataqua in a small boat with writer Rod Philbrick. The concept was a little spooky. Ironically, with NH Gazette editor Steve Fowle aboard too, we all survived our sunset cruise up the back channel. You have to get right down on the water and move at a slow "no wake" speed in order to see how really huge the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is. We cruised around the place from Badger's Island, past a few nice hidden homes, by some pretty spiffy Navy sail training vessels, around by the giant abandoned Naval prison and along the area where all those ships and subs have been built and repaired through history. There is an odd industrial beauty on a sultry evening here as the lights glow like a distant landing strip and the massive cranes loom over like some invading figures from a Star Wars episode. So much of the region's history and economy is tied to this mysterious pair of islands. I've only been into the restricted base a few times, once to launch the submarine Albacore on its final mission, once to see the museum there. It's a place I want to know much more about.

July 17
I think I almost had a religious experience! I was walking into Market Square and was looking at the tarnished orange-colored North Church steeple which suddenly has everyone up in arms. I had never noticed that the little alley between the church and Eagle Photo is actually called Church Street. Very appropriate. Then suddenly, as I am crossing Church Street, a truck pulls up suddenly blocking my path. Across the truck body were three giant letters G.O.D.. I expected angels next. Then I saw that the letters stood for Guaranteed On-time Delivery, a wonderfully blasphemous new company, I guess. Whew! No spiritual pressure there. Today is the next in the series of wonderful lunchtime concerts held at 12:10 in the North Church Sanctuary. Despite claims that JPJ, Washington and Webster had worshipped there (in a different building on the same site, of course), I'd never entered through the mob of pierced and tatooed teens who lounge along the front of the building. What is most striking about the huge sanctuary is how suddenly quiet it is inside. Trucks, teens, horse carts, voices just melt away. I caught a couple of violinists playing their hearts out. The pews are gigantic and curved and the balcony runs around three sides supported by tiny columns and about 100 things that look like old piano legs. The giant pip organ dominates the room which seems all open and airy. How the church will manage to afford to fix its tumbling steeple is unknown, but it will happen. On the Isles last week I learned that old heathen Shoalers didn't much like the missionaries sent to convert them, but they did respect one sent from the Portsmouth North Church. Why? Because 10 miles out to sea, they were able to use the 150 foot tall steeple as an aid to navigation in the moonlight.

July 16
I had forgotten what a superb book "The Gundalow" by Richard Winslow turned out to be. If any local volume should NOT be out of print, this is the one. The flat bottomed Mac truck of the Piscataqua was the vessel that literally built this region, carrying everything from cows to hay and bricks up and down the five Piscataqua Rivers. The book came out in the early 80s to mark the launching of the reproduced gundalow that was built over at Strawbery Banke and hauled to the water by oxen. I was there. I've mentioned this before, but I still say that was one of this area's finest moments, and Winslow's research tells the story of this undignified little sailing vessel with dignity. It's a perfect example of compelling local history, scrupulously researched and well told. The word is so unique to this region that my auto spell checker keeps changing it to "gondola." I searched on the entire Internet and got: The Herald Historic Trail, Kittery's Gundalow Inn, Century 21 Gundalow Real Estate in Durham, a piece in the Boston Globe about Norman Michaud (who runs the Gundalow Project nearby), a piece I wrote, the UNH Library, Strawbery Banke and the Gaslight Restaurant which serves a "Gundalow" pizza. Now that's an exclusive Seacoast word!

July 15
Twenty years ago I replaced the editor of the Hampton Union for a week while she was on summer vacation. I've barely been back since. I think it's fair to say that most of us locals don't visit often in the summer. Last weekend, a buddy and I "cruised" the beach and I'm still struggling for adjectives. "Tacky" comes to mind, but then I don't mind a little fried dough, Philly cheese and frozen yogurt. Who could possibly buy all those T-shirts? And how can everything be 50% off? Whittier was able to pitch a tent there in mid 1800s and barely see a soul. Now, in the evening, the beach is still practically empty while the strip is mobbed. Loud? I'll say. The roar of the waves can't match the sheer audio overload of arcades and concerts. It's an amazing array of seniors, bikers, teens and families of all races. I was impressed by how clean much of the beach remains. It is carefully patrolled and anyone with a loud car radio is warned to turn it down. There were no drunks visible in the early evening and everyone just walks up and down and up and down the strip. It is fully another world, as different from Portsmouth or Exeter as it could be, as different even from the town of Hampton nearby. This bears further research.

July 14
I've managed to remain neutral on the issue of the old Portsmouth State House until now, but the Mayor caught me at a lawn party and asked if I'd come aboard a new committee to consider the issue. It is bound to be a hot one. The existing piece of the provincial state house is in a trailer in Concord, and that isn't much. Rebuilding from this piece is like the movie Sleeper where Woody Allen was going to reconstruct a political leader from the tip of his nose. But I think there is much to be considered here. First, I'm in favor of any attempt to tell local history. Second, people need a "sense of place." They respond to tactile things, buildings, monuments, museums, parades. Third, this building, even one reconstructed from scratch, hits right at the heart of Portsmouth which was, for a short period, the NH state capital. This was a BRITISH building, since we were then all British citizens. And, fourth, it was an important building architecturally, at least if you can believe the architectural drawings filed by the State of NH back when the rehab was first considered. And finally, I think we need a project of this scope and cost to pull together the spirit of local history under one roof. This construction would engender a lot of bitter arguments and that is exactly why the original one was built in the first place. It was where arguments over British taxes and American freedom were held.

July 13
If one more person asks me "When's the 375th celebration?" I'm gonna start knuckling heads. Hello! Anyone happen to catch the fantastic 375th lawn party for John Paul Jones on Saturday? Duh? Like, it was only on the front page of both newspapers, and beautifully done by June Rogers of the Portsmouth Historical Society. A couple dozen re-enactors from the Whipple Lodge raised the flag and fired muskets. Then Esther Buffler, our poet laureate, read a poem, followed by ballads from the Portsmouth Trio, a bagpiper, birthday cake and punch -- all on a glorious day in the gardens at the Jones house. Strawbery Banke has been going great guns. Not a weekend passes by without some history action. The Shaw Brothers concert is on tap. Portsmouth Lager is on the shelves and delicious. Snap out of it John Q. Oh, whatever!

July 11
Cousin Wayne showed up suddenly in town last night, first time in his 50 years he's ever seen these parts, and yet, he was more familiar with Portsmouth than many natives. "Isn't the Tobias Lear House down Hunking Street?" he asked as we beat the Cinderella crowd out of Prescott Park through the gardens. Or later, when I mentioned Langdon, Gov. Wentworth, Revere or Whipple, Strawbery Banke -- he picked up the story like a tour guide. Not bad for a guy from South Carolina. We wandered the town with his wife and a brood of kids, their friends, an exchange student and a spare cousin named Scott. When we got down to the Porter statue in the park off Pleasant Street, I noticed Wayne was silent. He didn't know that this was the statue of a famous Civil War balloonist. Didn't know the Capt Thomas Thompson house, the Liberty Pole, the South Mill Pond or other more obscure spots. Then it dawned on me; Wayne only knew what he had read on this web site. If it wasn't online, it was invisible, our of his encyclopedic field of vision. And so, there we have it -- the prototype of the Seacoast Cyber Tourist. Wayne had been visiting this region on the Web since we arrived 18 months ago. In fact, he rerouted the family trip to Alaska to finally take in what we humbly refer to as "the center of the universe." And he did not seem disappointed. Everything was where it was supposed to be -- the tugs, the bridges, North Church. "Where was the mural you wrote about?" he asked. "Isn't that Stoodley's Tavern where Walter Brennan and Robert Young got drunk in Northwest Passage? Get ready for thousands more Waynes, loyal readers who know the region like the back of their cyber hands. They are a new breed -- tourists who care. They bring money. They ask intelligent questions. They don't litter.

July 10
It seemed more like the Treaty of Portsmouth, Part 2, than a party, though it was a luxurious party at the Rockingham in the Library Restaurant WEdnesday. The current and former mayors were there, a city councilman, a state Senator, an intriguing mix of professionals. The event was the official kickoff of the Ottaway ownership of the Exeter, Hampton and Portsmouth newspapers, now called the Seacoast Newspapers. Jim Ottaway himself was present. I met him years ago while working at the former Rockingham Gazette, which like the former Portsmouth Press was designed to "worry" the Portsmouth Herald. It was a mission not unlike when John Paul Jones, in a Portsmouth-built ship, single-handedly convinced the British that the entire American Navy was at the door. Back then, the weekly Gazette had only one or two major stories a week in which to impress our readers and depress Herald editors. The Portsmouth Press was a bigger better biweekly, and some still believe the local flanking maneuver worked. Years later, Ottaway Newspapers won the day and now John Tabor, who once worried the Herald as editor of the Press, is himself the Herald's publisher. Since I'm currently writing for this little web site and for the competing newspaper, I was surprised to get an official invitation to the Herald kickoff, but even more surprised to see Bob Foster, publisher of the rival Seacoast paper come through the historic wooden door of the Rockingham. Tabor warmly praised the 125 year-old Foster's Daily Democrat, then introduced Jim Ottaway who introduced Peter Kann, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Dow Jones Company. Now that's a heavyweight title. Dow Jones owns the Ottaway chain and the prestigious and unsinkable Wall Street Journal. There was no American Navy, of course, to back up John Paul Jones' raids on Great Britain, just a bunch of guys in a boat pretending to be dangerous. Back in them good ol' days at the Gazette we were happy to write the whole paper for $100 a week. Each week we fired our journalistic salvos toward the great gray walls of the Portsmouth Herald. We reporters held out as long as we could, in my case a couple of hundred articles worth. When we ran out of ammo, we waited for reinforcements that never came. If only we had known that, far far in the distance, the gigantic battleship USS Wall Street really was cruising in for the kill. Well, the castle has finally been overthrown and, from the looks of their first party, the new rulers have heavy artillery, deep pockets and a sense of fair play. Let's see if they can win back the hearts and minds of us common folk.

July 08
One day on the Isles of Shoals is like a week in a foreign country. Jut back from a night on Star Island where the moon is fuller, the sunset is richer and the food is… er… well, the scenery is 360 degrees batter than on the mainland. It was a festive day for conferees at the Unitarian Church-owned island because it was "shower day." Hotel guests only get two showers a week and, so you can imagine everyone was in a pretty good mood. I was attending a lecture on the history of the Isles drawn from the book "Gosport Remembered" (featured on our Isles pages). The inhabitant of the Isles, isolated from the mainland, is a dark rich loam of material that has yet to be fully explored. Remember that this place used to be packed with people in the 1600s and it was a colony of freethinking, hard drinking fishing families, so aloof from Portsmouth that they practically spoke another language. Missionary after missionary tried to bring the gospel to the "heathens" who populated the region. This is the story of a population that survived the most unbearable hardships on a rocky place without roads, in a life more primitive than we can imagine. So after a day of gulls, sun and shooting the 5am sunrise, I am renewed, determined to get there more often, and too tired to make this entry makee sense.

July 07
Long dead alemaker tycoon Frank Jones was so powerful that you can still feel his influence around town. For sure, he made beer a key local industry and that tradition is back with local breweries like Red Hook and Smuttynose on the rise. Today's release of the new Portsmouth Lager is more important, I think, than many realize. A beer label is a powerful icon and launching a new brand name is no small event in a former-factory town. There was talk of a Harbour Trail Ale, but I want to come out for an alternative -- Tobias Lear Near Beer! Has a certain ring to it, yes? And it's nonalcoholic. Actually John Paul Jones, who we featured in a new section today, was himself a teetotaler. How about John Pale Jones? The famous Stoodley's Tavern in Strawbery Banke should have its own draft too. Or what about mixed drinks? A Black Whipple? Crème de Celia? A finger of Old Mr. Portsmouth and a gigger of Johnny Langdon? Don't get me started. Winning import is still The Bishop's Finger, available at the Coat of Arms on Fleet Street. In a shipping town, we just never order anything on the rocks.

July 06
People in Dover must be breathing a sigh of relief now that their triumphant 375th ceremony is over. Let's face facts -- they did it right. People, I guess, need a parade. Tradition is, after all, the repetition of hoopla. Dover put up some dough, planned, set up events, and jammed the whole thing into the already patriotic Fourth of July weekend. The Friday Foster's preceded the events with a wonderful collection of articles on local history. Now, understandably, the Portsmouth media is running around trying to find its local festival like the princess searching for the pea under the mattress. I've been saying from the getgo, that this is a whole different kind of celebration. We had no money, no staff, precious few volunteers, and we got started late. So rather than stage a half-fast public event, we went for the "awareness" approach. I, for one, am thrilled with the result. The Harbour Trail flags, the focus on history by the local chamber, the newspaper supplements, the constant press coverage, the NH Editions magazine, the free historic house days, the park concert, the centralized historical calendar, the web site, the T-shirts, the school initiative -- all this tells me that our tiny weary volunteer group is getting the message out. But the historical jealousy persists and, feeling one-upped by sister Dover and jilted by brother Charleston, a few Portsmouth citizens are asking "Where's the beef?" The beef, friends, is all around you. You just have to make a little investment. Study up. Support an old home. Take your kids to a lecture. Come aboard the Endeavour. See the gundalow. The tourists aren't complaining. Wake up and smell the history, Portsmouth. Maybe by 2023 you'll understand that hoopla has a pricetag. This year, you got a lot of bang for nearly no bucks. Smile, be happy.

July 04
From the rooftop the fireworks explode behind the North Church steeple like the colorful cover of a tourist guidebook. The downtown pigeons scatter in panic. On the ground, by the South Mill Pond, 35,000 voices moan in distant approval as the display crashes ahead. I've always had two minds about fireworks -- the cost, the danger, the smell, warlike tone and the chest-punching, ear-popping noise. Those factors play against the beauty, the glory and excitement, leaving me torn for an opinion. But its cool on the roof, distant, above the fray, isolated so it seems the whole show is a command performance. For half an hour the colors burst and rain. At first, each explosion leaves a ghostly smoke ring that floats directly over head and toward the river like messages meant to be decoded. Then, as the battle pace quickens, the night sky is choked off, split by the spotlight on the steeple into gray smog and black shadow. The crowd wails into the last barrage, their voices and applause condensed and fading. And then there is nothing but the lack of noise and light, a sensual vacuum, then a soft choking loss of spirit as my feelings come back on-line. Among the small gathering of rooftop watchers, no one speaks. All are focused on the smoldering horizon where five small fires float toward us, higher up, but falling as they burn. Approaching, closer, one by one, the bits of flaming sky -- like the memory of war and passion -- are consumed by darkness.

July 03
When I was growing up in Grafton, Massachusetts, our phone number was something simple like Greenleaf 601. Now, 40 years later, I am immersed this week in the man for whom my telephone number was dedicated -- John Greenleaf Whittier. I never much cared for that romantic group of Mass poets who seemed to be larger in legend than in skill. But reading Whittier for the first time, there is some meat to the matter. I'm focused on his Seacoast NH poems, and there just seems to be more and more of them. Tonight read The Changling, Amy Wentworth, The New Wife and the Old. Considering that Whittier was a dedicated Quaker, a bachelor who apparently never made love to anyone -- his spooky stories about female characters in the Seacoast area have a surprising psychological insight. I may get shot for saying this, of course. But even in his time, Whittier was telling "old" stories. In these legends, strong emotions seem to be assigned to unearthly powers -- a mother's squalling baby is deemed possessed, a dead wife speaks to a living wife, a grieving woman waits for her sailor to return. Whittier, a man who wrote of strong emotions for a living, seems to have been drawn to these powerful legends for a reason. I'm trying to flesh those reasons out -- and getting deeper into this region's lore through his poetry that I am finding surprisingly evocative. That probably says a lot about my writing and my own emotional state, right Freud?

July 02
When John Paul Jones was in town, he knew how to fire up the Fourth of July. On his second visit to Porttsmouth, as I remember, he held a big event while John Langdon was building him the ship of war America. To pump up a little holiday spirit (and probably to speed up Langdon), Jones arranged for the cannons to be fired on dry-docked ship across the harbor. As I remember my Samuel Eliot Morrison, Jones coordinated nearly a dozen toasts to coincide with the gunfire on the ship. A lookout on the roof of the building apparently signaled the ship when each toast was ready. Then everyone danced aboard the largest ship in the American fleet (since no Navy yet existed) and JPJ paid, probably out of his own pocket, for the fireworks that exploded overhead. He was repaid by a notice from Congress that said, after a year of anticipation, he would not be commander. Instead the ship was given to France and it was soon a rotten hulk from disuse. I mean someday to study the wooden model of the America which is in a glass case on the ground floor of the Athenaeum. Jones' disappointment must have been enormous, and that was his farewell to Portsmouth, which he had said he loved second only to Paris. We only shunned poor misunderstood JPJ. His first love, Paris, eventually killed him.

© 1998

See also:

  • Seacoast History
  • History Themes
  • Big Parties That I Missed

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