An Archaeological and Historical Look Into the Past
Paperback - February 21, 2020 (see book on Amazon)
Building on his grandfather's archaeological legacy and boasting almost twenty years in the field himself, Jim Littlefield presents some sixty bite-sized historical vignettes, many of which have their beginnings in the ground. Examinations of a 19th century sleigh bell, an old ox shoe, a Continental coin, a Native American religious pendant (manitou), or something as simple as a dog license, jaw harp or a child's toy, produce stories that go way beyond the object itself. Stumbling across an 800-year-old Native American skeleton might be another example. Digging history from the ground, the reader soon discovers, can be a powerful tool, indeed.
In addition to archaeology, old documents were used to enhance the power and accuracy of the stories. Accessing the well-kept records of a local doctor, a famous colonial journal, a Littlefield family daybook, or digging up old state prison records that were molding away in damp basements on prison grounds, resulted in some truly amazing discoveries. Surprisingly enough, postal cards from the past sometimes led the way. One pictured a home sinking beneath the ice of a local lake, introducing the reader to Thomas LaCount, a Niantic grocer who probably wished he had left his house where it was and had not tried to slide it across the lake to a better location on the other side. Another vintage postcard featured a local island, a landmark and boundary marker once fought over with fists a-flying. Still another depicted an old travel lodge by the side of the road which had the power to open the door to a tragic love story that ended abruptly with the sinking of a 19th century schooner.
Examining existing gravestones was another method used to rescue local tales from obscurity. One tombstone found in the Pesthouse Cemetery produced a name that allowed the horrors of smallpox to be revisited. Another epitaph provided a connection to a famous American cowgirl from the early 20th century, a woman who actually had been inducted into the Cowboy and Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Few people knew such a celebrity had been buried among us. Still another tombstone allowed for a return to the heroics of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry during the Civil War in the person of a 17-year-old volunteer who joined to save the union. His grave is fittingly located in Union Cemetery. Two simple initials on a coffin made with brass tacks would prompt an investigation into the phenomena of New England Vampirism, not something the run-of-the-mill history book would include but one this book would be more than happy to embrace.
Does the reader have an interest in old fireplaces? How about ice harvesting, witch hazel collecting, the construction and proper use of old privies, the first New England schools? How about old coins, or maybe how oxen teams once functioned? Would there be interest in learning techniques on how to date old objects, or hearing the latest news about major pieces of the town's past that have almost miraculously found their way back home? Would the reader be interested in listening to historic re-enactors, living historians whose expertise entitles them to speak for the dead?
Fireside Memories: Tales of East Lyme's Past offers stories on a wide range of historical topics. Some are about objects unearthed from the ground, but many are stories, human stories, of those who came before. Tales of doctors and ministers, artists and educators, pirates and patriots, all brought back to life to speak with us once more. The ghosts of the past, after all, remain with us always.