They Swear Like Pirates!

This was the title of an article I found in the Boston Herald for September 19, 1893. Not only did it make the Boston Papers, excerpts were reprinted in newspapers in Ohio, Illinois, Idaho and California. Word traveled fast about our little town and their bad language. This was not to be the subject of this blog but as usual when researching something else I got led down another path and had to investigate.

Marblehead has many claims to fame, “Birthplace of the American Navy”, “Yachting Capitol of the World” and in 1893 it was known as the “Profanity Center of the World”, an honor we did share with Gloucester, MA. Most of us are familiar with the common Marblehead expressions, “Whip”, “Down Bucket”, “Up for Air”, and others, but profanity! I know it was never allowed in my house when I was growing up. I can still taste that bar of Palmolive soap in my mouth. I always thought “Whip” and “Down Bucket” were swear words but I guess not, as I could say them and not get into trouble. “Shittin Hill” was also allowed to be talked about at home, as it was a  landmark in town, so I guess in that context it was not profanity. (For those of you unfamiliar with this area of town, it is the hill coming down from Abbot Hall towards the Boston Yacht Club. The corner of the house that was cut off, supposedly for Lafayette’s carriage to make the turn; it was actually removed so the “slop” from the hill could find its way to the harbor. Or so the legend goes.)

According to the article there was a crusade going on in town in 1893 against the vice of profane swearing, which even the inhabitants of the town acknowledged with sorrow, was indulged in to an alarming extent by men, boys and even some women and girls. A prominent townsman gave a talk at the YMCA and took the young people to task for indulging in blasphemous expressions and suggested that they purge themselves of this bad habit. Discussions went on for months and the “Marblehead Anti-Swearing League” complete with a constitution and bylaws was created and signed by many charter members. It was agreed that each member should work to reform some confirmed swearer, just the same as the temperance people got to reform a man who had taken to tippling. According to the bylaws there was to be no swearing on the streets at the end of a year.

So where did this swearing habit originate. In 1894, James J. H. Gregory commented about profanity in town, saying “profanity was shockingly common in town. I know of no place where I have ever heard so much of it as in this town. It is a relic of the rude old age which had been passed down to Marblehead people.”   One gentleman who was staying at a local hotel in 1893 was interviewed by the writer of the original article and here is his story:

            “I am not a native here and when I came here three years ago I was pained beyond endurance by the profane expressions dropped in conversation. I’ve heard a crowd of boys playing in the streets talk like a crowd of Bowery gamins. The girls too, are not free from it. Everybody here though takes it for a harmless eccentricity for the users of the profane words do not attach any significance to the words they utter. It is purely mechanical, that is all.”

A local at the town wharf was also interviewed and here are his thoughts on the subject.

   Reporter: “What is the story about a crusade against swearing in Marblehead?”

Local: “I’ll be _______if I know, it may be needed though. Seems to me, come to think of it I have heard one or two ________cranks talking about it.

Reporter: “Is there much swearing here?”

Local: ‘Oh ______yes, I suppose, but Gloucester can beat us hands down. It has become such an everyday habit, that it seems to make but very little difference what people swear about. One cannot walk along the sidewalks at night without being shocked if he is at all impressionable. It may be that the uses of profane words put them in more because they have an imperfect knowledge of English and wish to fill up a break in their talk. In my own case, I frequently drop a swear word just as naturally as I breathe and just an involuntarily. A good many boys acquire the habit because they think the words sound big and brave.”

So what was the result of this crusade? As the one year anniversary approached of the Marblehead Anti Swearing League one of the members declared that the anniversary could be celebrated as a failure. There was no reform at all, the swearing continued. Just another one of Marblehead’s quirks that makes Marblehead a grand old town and makes people say we are a unique place and unique individuals!! “Whip”


July 4, 1916 Part II The Awards

Doll Carriage parade

This is a follow up to last week’s blog post about the activities in town on July 4, 1916. Although the parade had fewer participants than anticipated there were still many winners.  The judges were: Mrs.Lafayette Gregory, Mrs.Robert Homan, Mrs. Hooper R. Shaw, Mrs. Charles M. Green and Mrs. Horatio B. Buck.  The following prizes were awarded: 

“The Butterfly Group” consisting of a number of Miss Ella Ballard’s dancing class costumed as butterflies was awarded the first prize

“John Alden and Priscilla” children of Rupert Coffin, second prize. ( Rupert and his wife Edith were from Maine and he worked for the highway department in Marblehead. They lived on Lincoln Avenue.  The children were Granville Farriell Coffin, born 1910 and Deborah B. Coffin, born 1912)

“George and Martha Washington” received honorable mention. They were Thelma and Marion Dexter.  

Decorated Baby Carriages: Chariot – Dorothy Raymond – first prize. (She was most likely the one year old daughter of Ludger and Florence Raymond of Pleasant Street)

Pushing carriage   Helen Gillis – second prize (she may have been the daughter of William and Lillian Gillis, born 1906 and lived on Stacey Court)

Most Original feature: “The Bartlett Pair”  who were the children of Ralph Bartlett and Lillian P. Chapman. (He was a machinist living on Elm Street. The children were Elizabeth Glover Bartlett born 1912 and Ruth Chapman Bartlett born 1913

Girl Characters: Mistress Mary   Mary Laskey first place – (she was most likely the daughter of Emerson Roads Laskey and Leona May Day of Mugford Street, born 1909)

Fairies – Adelaide Glass   second place (4 year old daughter of Emerson Glass and Corrine Dykeman)

Older Boy Characters: Blue Beard   – Theodore Smith   first place (he was born in 1905, son of William Everett Smith and Eliza Gregory Reynolds)

Naval Reserve – Fred Broughton, Jr.  second place  (Fred was born in 1905 son of Frederick Albert Broughton and Mabelle Pope Gardner)

Small Boy Characters: Gold Dust Twins – Jeffrey Nichols and Nat Snow – first place (Nat Snow was most likely born in 1911 the son of Nathaniel and Amelia Snow of Washington Street.)

Yellow Clown – Azor Goodwin – second place (5 year old son of Henry Emerson Goodwin and Bertha Langley of High Street)

Decorated Doll Carriage – green and white     Harriet Coffin – first place – (she was born in 1912, daughter of Harry and Nannie Coffin of Darling Street)

Decorated Doll Carriage – orange – Barbara Brown – second place (she was born in 1911 daughter of A. Frank Brown, living on Sewall Street)

Best Decorated automobile was awarded to Harrie K. Nutting.

After the parade the sporting events were held under the direction of Mr. William Smith. The following are the winners:

Potato Race – William Gillis   – first place (he was the son of William and Lillian Gillis of  Stacey Court, born 1904)

Edward McCormack – second place (son of James and Augusta McCormack of Orne Street, born 1903) 

Forty Yard Dash – Lincoln Davis   first place

Nathan Tucker   second place (I think he was born in 1905; his mother was Bertha L. Graves and his stepfather was Herbert Graves and may have been the brother of A. Damon Tucker)

Ball Throwing – Caroline Reynolds – first place (daughter of Joel Reynolds and Carrie Gertrude Shepard, born in 1905)

                        Edith Dixey – second place (born in 1904 to Edward T. and Flora Dixey and lived on Orne Street.  She went on to become the physical education teacher at the Marblehead High School)

Three legged Race – Lincoln Davis and Charles Walcott – first place

            Morris Eaton and Herbert Townsend – second place (born 1908, son of Fred and Sarah Townsend, lived on Glover Street.)

Flag Race: Edith Dixey – first place

  Dorothy Collins – second place

Wheelbarrow Race: James Murphy – first place

                                 Edward McCormack – second place

One hundred yard dash: Charles Narbis – first place

                                       James Murphy – second place

80 Yard Dash: Edith Dixey – first place

                        Alice Black – second place


And that concluded the festivities for July 4, 1916. If anyone has photos of these events it would be great to see.  Did you find any relatives?

Pond St Assoc