A Look Back: Part II

In this week’s edition of “A Look  Back” we have a collection that should become very valuable to researchers in the future. In December CHS accessioned a collection of diaries written by Thomas John  Crockett III of Unionville, Connecticut (Ms# 100794). The collection contains 56 volumes, dating between 1954 and 2008. While we already have a few twentieth century diaries, this is our first collection of diaries to include the twenty-first century.

Hardly any white space remains among the pages of the volume from 1986.  Crockett recorded lists of people he met, places he visited, luncheon and dinner guests, books read, and movies seen during the year. Each day he noted expenditures, such as $7.85 for film on January 3, $2.00 YMCA contribution on August 6, and $2.70 for stamps on October 9. Whether he stayed home or traveled, each day he labeled the top left-hand corner with a town name. Many times he stayed in Unionville, but other times he visited Tarrytown, NY, New York City, and many of the towns in Connecticut. Additionally, most entries contain the day’s temperature. The entries appear almost continuous, often only separated by a series of three x’s.

Crockett’s aunt, Marie Crockett, also kept a diary that year. It, too, is part of the collection. Though obviously the contents differ, the volumes are identical. John Crockett inscribed it, “For my favorite aunt, Marie Crockett, to write down her sage observations – on life, nature and the interesting universe we live in.” There are at least two entries in each of the diaries that overlap. On January 5, Marie Crockett wrote, “1 PM – JC came a calling with some sliced ham and a loaf of delicious Jewish rye bread – I had just eaten my lunch but had a slice of the rye bread for des[s]ert. Chatted awhile then had a little wine + cheese party ‘1 glass’ Carlo Rossi  to toast in the new year of 1986. Snowplow came while JC was here.”

John Crockett provided his own take on the event. “Since Marie Crockett spurned the Appelkuche I brought her as well as the pineapple/macadamia nut fruit cake + Rogers Bakery’s fancy holiday butter cookies, I brought her instead a loaf of Jewish rye bread w/ carroway seeds + 1/2 boiled ham. We had tea + sandwiches + sat out on the sunny enclosed porch + watched her ploughman clear her hilly driveway.” How interesting that while both remember the driveway being cleared of snow, one claims to have been drinking tea, and the other, wine! Obviously, no two people ever remember the same event in the exact same way. Five days later John left his aunt the annual Currier & Ives calendar distributed by Aetna Insurance. He writes of it as an Aetna calendar, while she calls it a Currier & Ives calendar. Both were correct.

Compared with some of the manuscripts in our collections, diaries from 1986 are relatively new. Crockett’s entries are filled with references to places that we can still visit, including Winding Trails in Farmington, Friendly’s Restaurant, and Sears. Some of the places have changed. He grocery shopped at Finast, a store that has since been absorbed by Stop & Shop. One day he wrote of driving to CBT to cash a check. CBT, Connecticut Bank and Trust, was absorbed by the Bank of New England (though a new CBT was created in 2004 using the same logo). Of course, like many Hartford area residents, Crockett shopped at the now defunct G. Fox.

At the beginning of the 1986 volume, Crockett reflected over the previous year. My original intention was to concentrate on that. However, the more I read through, the more the entire volume intrigued me. Crockett’s 2008 volume, the most recent, is in the same style as the one from 22 years earlier. Overall, Crockett wrote with a level of detail that is becoming increasingly less common. These diaries will provide future scholars with evidence of the daily life of a retired citizen in Unionville, Connecticut. They will know what he ate, when it snowed, where he shopped, and so many more of the intricacies of daily life that so many of us fail to record, yet are so important for understanding twentieth and twenty-first century culture. The diaries of Thomas John Crockett III are a unique and wonderful addition to the CHS collections.

Entries from October 17 and 18, 1986, Diary of John Crockett, Ms 100794, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Conn.