Paul Robeson: Baritone, Activist and Renaissance Man

Although Paul Robeson was born in New Jersey, for twelve years he made Enfield, Connecticut his home. The baritone and radio singer was best known for his title role in “Othello” in the 1930s and 1940s, which he portrayed in various venues between London and New York. Robeson performed in numerous American plays and Hollywood films, including Borderline (1930), The Emperor Jones (1933), and Show Boat (1936). Robeson performed regularly at the Bushnell Memorial Theater, having sung in their first Concert Series in 1945 with such songs as “Deep River” and “Ritual Fire Dance”. Continue reading

American fascination with British royalty

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store on Saturday, I heard a brief news clip about the impending birth of the new royal—Kate Middleton’s baby. It struck me as just one more example of American fascination with the Royal Family. However, this is not a recent phenomenon.

In the top paragraph of this letter Charlotte talks about her fascination with the coronation of Queen Victoria. Ms 101754

In the top paragraph of this letter Charlotte talks about her fascination with the coronation of Queen Victoria. Ms 101754

In a letter dated June 18, 1838, Charlotte Cowles wrote to her brother Samuel about a woman giving a speech to an audience of women. It raised an interesting question:

Mr Day thinks it is dreadful for a woman to speak, even to women. For my part, I think it is a very puzzling question, and ten times more so than it would be if Victoria were not on the throne. By the way, how much time are you going to spend on Wednesday in thinking of the coronation? I shall be at most afraid to think of it, lest I should afterwards find that that was not the day. There have been so many accounts of the that [sic] was fixed, that I am not quite sure the 20th is the right one.

In fact, Charlotte did get the date wrong. Victoria was crowned on 28 June 1838. Four hundred thousand visitors crammed London to witness the event. With the advent of television, of course, we can all get our royal fix from our homes. I remember watching Prince Charles and Diana Spencer’s wedding. The marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton also drew a large number of spectators—someone asked me if I was going to get up early (or was it stay up late?) to watch the pomp and circumstance. I didn’t. However, I shared the world’s grief at the death of Princess Diana. So there, I am not immune.

So why are Americans so fascinated? Could it be that deep down inside we wish we had a monarchy instead of a republic? Do we still feel strong ties to the “mother country” more than two hundred years later? Or are we all a bunch of hopeless romantics, seeing the monarchy as living a fairytale?

The Tube Went Where…?


This small brass cylinder, with a sliding hatch closure, transported money within the G. Fox & Co. department store in Hartford using the store’s pneumatic tube transport system. 2007.42.1

I was in the inside drive-thru lane at a Walgreens drug store recently and was watching a customer in the outside lane retrieve her prescription via a motorized “capsule” that traveled to and from the pharmacy. This got me to thinking about those wonderful pneumatic tube transport systems that were and in some cases still are used in large businesses, factories, banks, and department stores. You know (or at least those of a certain age know) the ones I mean, whereby a cylindrical capsule containing money or small merchandise items magically appears or disappears through a metallic tube, often with a satisfying hissing “thwunk” sound.

Well, since CHS’s collections has so many different objects I did some quick checking and learned that we in fact have one of those cylindrical capsules! Manufactured by the Lamson Engineering Company in London, our tube was used to transport money from a G. Fox & Co. sales desk to a centralized accounts receivable room in a distant part of the Hartford department store’s eleven-story building. Photographs of large pneumatic tube systems remind one of a mechanical octopus with long steel tentacles—or (I’m serious) in some ways the interior of the TARDIS time machine on the BBC’s Dr. Who television series. Don’t believe me? Well, have a look at the photo of the cash department at G. Fox, probably dating to the early 1920s. Get a load of all those tubes bringing cash to be processed, with change and receipts making the return trip to the sales clerk and, ultimately, the customer. There is almost a steampunk feel to the appearance of the tubes in the scene!


An extensive pneumatic tube transport system in the G. Fox & Co. department store linked sales counters with a centralized cash room. Inbound cash, checks and charges would be processed here and change and receipts would be quickly returned to customers through outbound tubes. This photograph dates to about 1920, shortly after G. Fox opened its new store in downtown Hartford. 2007.24.82.5

The technology for today’s pneumatic transport systems actually dates to the 19th century, when steam-powered air pumps were developed to provide the propulsion. Some large systems linked adjacent factory buildings, moving messages and even small parts between different departments. And get this, some visionaries even proposed subway systems employing this technology; but the airflow such large systems would require outstripped the capacity of existing technology. I can feel my ears popping already…