Thursday, October 27, 2011

Find Movie Magic at the Library

Written by Khara Whitney-Marsh, a student at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library Science in Boston, who is interning at the Morrill Memorial Library this fall.

Alice Hoffman said that books are the only true magic, and I agree they are truly magic. But I must confess that I also love movies and have felt touched, even changed by their magic again and again.

The best explanation I’ve found for the effect movies can have was in an episode of “Northern Exposure.” Ed, the local movie buff, has been enlisted to create a film festival that will get Cicely, Alaska on the map. Leonard, a shaman played by Graham Greene, comes to town seeking the “healing stories” of white people. Though the townspeople are eager to assist him, the stories they bring range from Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox to assorted urban myths, like the one about spiders nesting in a woman’s beehive hairdo. Leonard is confused by these fables that lack the healing properties of great mythology.

Meanwhile, Ed has decided to dedicate his film festival to Orson Welles, but it has him so stressed he develops stomach problems. A discouraged Leonard wanders into the local movie house and finds Ed watching an old print of “Citizen Kane.” He notices that Ed is enthralled with the movie and appears to have totally forgotten his ailment.

Leonard asks and Ed says his stomach is better. Then he asks, “You’ve seen this movie a number of times?” Ed says, of course. “Yet you want to see it again. Why?” Ed replies, “It’s a great story, it’s beautiful. It’s fearless. You know that quote in the beginning where Kane says it might be fun to run a newspaper? Well, I think that’s the way Orson Welles approached this. It might be fun to make a movie. He didn’t know what he was doing and yet he did something that was perfect. Makes you think about what’s possible.”

Leonard ponders Ed’s words. “Maybe this is it,” he says. “White medicine. Movies. They say it’s magic. Seems to have cured you.”

If you also love healing stories that come to us through the medium of film, I would like to share a few small jewels that are available at Morrill Memorial Library or through the Minuteman Library Network.

Director Anthony Minghella’s first film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply” starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson, is a moving and funny take on a young, recently widowed woman who cannot find a way to leave her grief behind and begin again, until her husband’s ghost returns, along with several pals from unknown time periods, to help her do so.

Minghella later became famous for “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and “Cold Mountain,” but he wrote this story for himself while he was also writing the Inspector Morse mysteries for the BBC. Minghella wanted to see the sardonic, martini-dry Alan Rickman play a leading man just once. Professor Snape, we hardly knew ye. Available through Minuteman.

John Turturro is a virtuoso actor with a long list of credits, which include stand out performances in Coen Brothers movies, like “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski.” But he is also a multi-talented writer/director with several films under his belt.

Two of my favorites are “illuminata” and “Romance and Cigarettes.” Both films are beautifully crafted, brilliantly funny slices of strange and wonderful life. “Romance and Cigarettes” stars James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Mary Louise Parker, and Kate Winslett, among others. In this one, you want to see Christopher Walken’s Elvis impersonation. Did you know the Scary Guy is really a great song and dance man?

Walken does another turn in “Illuminata” as an Oscar Wildian theater critic trying to seduce rubber-faced Bill Irwin; Susan Sarandon chews up the scenery as an over-the hill Sarah Bernhardt wanna-be; and Rufus Sewell (“Zen” on Masterpiece Mystery) finds ways to make you adore the narcissistic leading man by playing him fearlessly. For a preview of “Illuminata” watch Turturro and Walken with Charlie Rose at Both movies available through Minuteman.

“The Station Agent” which stars Patricia Clarkson (“Goodnight and Good Luck”), along with Peter Drinklage and Bobby Cannavale, is about the gift of friendship and how it can get you through a lot, even when you never expected to find it. OK, I admit I had to see the movie for the line about librarians at the end, but it was everything that came before that I loved. Find it at Minuteman.

Finally, I wish everyone in the world could see “Snow Cake,” which is available here at Morrill Memorial Library. It stars Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. Weaver, sans glamour and firepower, plays a high-functioning autistic woman who ultimately helps Rickman put his life back together. If you think it’s going to be mushy, think again. There’s a knife at the heart of this film that neatly slices yours open and lets in the most glorious light.

The Minuteman Library Network has the Masterpiece Mystery “Zen” and all 6 seasons of “Northern Exposure,” including the movie episode called “Rosebud” in the fifth season. Morrill Memorial Library also has “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Cold Mountain,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?” “Good Night and Good Luck,” and “Citizen Kane.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making History in Norwood

Written by Marie Lydon, a Reference librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

A survey was sent out recently asking which libraries in the Minuteman Library Network have microfilm/microfiche readers that patrons can use. I guess I’m just old fashioned but cannot imagine our library being without one. A lady the other day traveled to Norwood to see if the Norwood Messenger on microfilm had the obituary of her relative who had lived in the town years ago. She was so excited when she found it. She must have repeated 3 or 4 times, “This is a really neat machine,” and departed saying she would be back sometime just to read the ads. Most people seem to really get hooked on the ads, once they start looking for something.

As a true library geek in high school and college, I always loved going through the bound copies of the old Life, Time and Look magazines, lost in the stacks, so to speak. We still have a few magazines and newspapers bound here but we long ago lost the space to accommodate the “real” Norwood newspapers from 1888 on so we started having them microfilmed. Different staff members started indexing the newspaper on index cards in 1955 and it has been an ongoing project ever since. With the help of the Ernie Boch grant and part time work at the Reference Desk, we have been able to go back to the beginning and are now up to 1894! It is a tedious and time consuming job working with the microfilm on the computer but our indexer-in-chief, Shelby Warner, says she enjoys it.

As the microfilm machine is right next to the Reference Desk, we get to know some of the people using it. There have been many committed volunteers who have researched their local churches and schools, usually when preparing for a special anniversary, and have given us copies of the fruits of their labors. A really dedicated patron is writing a history of her church and has started with the microfilm from the beginning. She said she really enjoys it and will miss it when she finishes. She has researched local history through newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and finds the Norwood collection more complete than others she has seen. In her research, she came across an article by Win Everett, printed September 24, 1935, documenting a history of the town’s newspapers from the beginning and declaring that “the truest and best history of a town is written in its newspapers.” He spent a “busy and dirty day” in the library stacks and found a pretty complete file from 1887 to 1935, many donated by the Walpole library. He predicted that the library trustees would bind these older papers in book form. He published a checklist of the newspapers at the library and later the newspaper published a list of missing issues, asking residents to donate their own copies. His efforts have helped other Norwood researchers.

Before we moved back to our newly renovated library, Thomas Collins sat at an older, manual microfilm machine in a windowless room for hours compiling articles and obituaries of Norwood casualties of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The project filled two notebooks and he gave copies to the library where they have been used by family members and students doing research through the years. Dr. Bryant Tolles cranked through years of Norwood microfilm when he was commissioned to write a history of the town commemorating its 100th anniversary in 1972.

Some representative memorable searches include:

-A grandfather looking up the newspaper article of his great play in a Norwood-Dedham High School Thanksgiving game in the ‘50s

-A woman with a ripped newspaper clipping of her parents’ wedding looking for the original picture for an anniversary celebration

-A Connecticut man requesting an article he remembers from childhood that his grandmother had about the death of her husband, a town worker, from a hornet’s sting in 1953

-A lady in Florida calling and requesting an article about a bank robbery in the 50’s that she remembers because she is writing an article about it

-The Boy Scouts looking up the newspapers of their birth dates

For me, this is what makes a library a special place in the community—that it keeps available and accessible the history of the town and its citizens and the memories that they wish they had kept for themselves and their children.

We also have people who come from the military and schools using the reader because some records are on microfiche or microfilm and they do not have the equipment to read them. But overwhelmingly, much of the use of the microfilm reader is for looking up obituaries for genealogical purposes and weather stories because of automobile accident claims.

A woman called recently from a Boston foundation looking for a picture of Arthur Pingree, a minister at the Congregational Church in the 1920s, because she needs pictures of all the donors and he was one of them. We had old newspaper clippings with pictures and also articles on microfilm about him.

Some day, maybe our local newspapers on microfilm will be digitized and online. It would be a costly project. In the meantime, we are fortunate that recently we have been able to subscribe to the “Historical Boston Globe 1872-1979” an online database. This can be a great resource for Norwood historical events and persons as well. It contained a lengthy article about Arthur Pingree’s drowning and pictures of the local girls he was trying to save. Just for fun, I looked up George Morrill, the benefactor of the library, and there was an article in the 1927 issue about his son, George Morrill, Jr. buying the first American made gasoline powered car, a Duryea, in 1896.

It’s a great time to be a researcher so come to our library and get lost in the microfilm of the old Norwood newspapers or go to the library’s website from home or in the library @ to access the “Historical Boston Globe 1872-1979” found under Databases for Research on the website.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Charlotte Canelli is Library Director at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin this week.

With autumn in full swing and with holidays descending on us, I am reminded of my repertoire of holiday films, those movies that warm my heart and tickle my funny bone.

One of my favorite movies of all-time is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, a comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy. When the film was released in 1987, both of the actors were well-known comedians in their own right but neither was known a successful actor. Steve Martin was just 42 and John Candy was an even-younger 37. (Candy died in 1994 only seven years after the movie’s release.)

Yet “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” became one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of the 80s decade. Roger Ebert included it in his Great Movies Collection and Martin’s and Candy’s roles can probably be regarded as their best on film.

Martin plays Neal Page, a business man trying to get home by plane. Candy, as Del Griffith, is a bungling shower-ring salesman who inadvertently trips up everyone’s plans. Martin and Candy traverse the eastern United States desperately trying to get to Chicago for Thanksgiving and by movie’s end they’ve taken nearly every mode of transportation available, including a plane, a train and an automobile.

And just as you may have finally finished massaging the stitch in your side caused by laughing until you’ve cried, you are caught with a lump in your throat when are reminded what life is really all about.

And those happy thoughts bring me back to books so I’ve included some about trains, planes … and travel in automobiles.

“Conquering the Sky: The Secret Flights of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk” (2009) was written by Larry Tise. Oroville and Wilbur Wright were born four years apart in Dayton, Ohio and spent their lives as bachelors. They were in their thirties when they spent five years, under the radar, so to speak, experimenting with air flight and most especially, with the instruments to control that flight. Tise chronicles the critical eleven day period in 1908 when the brothers tried desperately to carry out their trials in secret. Somewhat unlike the 21st century, however, news traveled fast across the globe as the brothers scrambled to test their equipment and they made history at the same time.

In another book published in 2009, Jay Spencer begins much earlier than the Kitty Hawk trials in “The Airplane: How Ideas Gave Us Wings”. Sir George Cayley investigated flight in the last years of the 18th century and has been referred to as The Father of Aviation and Aerodynamics. Spencer includes not only complete history of the engineers and inventors involved but also of the machinery behind successful flight.

Another book about the race to give us faster and faster flight is “Jet Age: The Comet, the 707 and the Race the Shrink the World” (2010) by Sam Howe Verhovek. It includes the story of two jet aircraft, the British Comet and the Boeing 707 Jet Stratoliner, in a competition to provide jet travel across the Atlantic Ocean.

Railroads traversed the eastern part of the United States before the Civil War. Yet, there was no final connection to the west. Shortly before his death in 2002, historian Stephen Ambrose gave us “Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869” (2000). The newly-built Pacific Railroad finally connected San Francisco to Omaha and joined the railroad systems of the U.S.

The northerly route described in Ambrose’s book smacked of decisions that were made for political reasons rather than logical ones. A logical or practical route might have been in the southern part of the western U.S., a countryside free of snow. In “Rival Rails: The Race to Build America’s Greatest Transcontinental Railroad” (2011), American historian Walter Borneman tells the story of the two of the largest railroad companies, Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe who ate bought up the smaller railroads in their contest to forcefully and vigorously build the southern route.

(For more, read “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America” (2011) by Richard White.)

In 1935 a powerful hurricane destroyed the Florida East Coast Railway, an 153-mile rail line across the open ocean. It connected Florida’s east coast to Key West and it was built by Henry Flagler who began the project at the age of 74 years in 1905. Les Standiford chronicles the entire story in “Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean” (2002).

The railway to Key West was never rebuilt for many reasons and one of those was the rise of the interstate highway system. That story is portrayed by Earl Swift in “The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways” (2011).

The system of interstate highways in the United States has been attributed to President Eisenhower and is known as the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways which began in 1956 with the signing of the Federal Highway Aid Act and ended with the last leg of the journey thirty-five years later in 1991. Yet, Earl Swift tells a story that begins much earlier in the first part of the 20th century with a race-car driver who spread his enthusiasm for the Good Roads movement.

“Onramps and Overpasses: A Cultural History of Interstate Travel” (2009), written by Dianne Perrier, takes an exit from the fast-paced travel we have all made a part of our lives. Fast-food and service companies have made their name and their wealth right on our onramps and offramps. Many of our interstates are built right over the original paths that Americans in past centuries traveled and Perrier looks deeper than those modern logos and new American icons. Her stories include those of Davey Crockett and Horace Greeley.

For help finding these and other books at the Morrill Memorial Library or in the Minuteman Library Network catalog, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the library.