Friday, December 27, 2013


In Paris 40 years ago on December 28, 1973, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, “The Gulag Archipelago” was published. Describing the horrors of the Soviet forced labor camps, the book was translated into 40 languages and some 10 million copies were printed around the world. “Judged by how much impact a book has on the course of world history, this is certainly the most influential book of the 20th century,” said Solzhenitsyn’s literary agent, French publisher Claude Durand. “Solzhenitsyn’s book was a shock to us,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who died in 1989, wrote in his memoir. “From the first pages arose the sinister world of grey camps surrounded by barbed wire, torture chambers... millions of our citizens vanished in glacial mines of Kolyma.”

Two months after the book’s publication, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the USSR. Of the 20 years he was to be exiled from his homeland, Solzhenitsyn spent almost 18 of them in Cavendish.aa
On January 11, the Cavendish Historical Society and the Cavendish Library will be holding a discussion about “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” Published in  1962 during a less repressive era under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the book
described one day in the life of a gulag prisoner. As a result of writing this book, Solzhenitsyn said, “Thousands of ex-prisoners wrote to me after the publication of Ivan Denisovich. I then realized that fate sent me what I needed. I got material for The Archipelago thanks to them,”
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is available at the Cavendish Library, most book stores and from ebookbrowse
Film adaptations of the book are available at the following sites:

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Civil War Christmas in Vermont

In keeping with the "Dickens of a Christmas" theme that the Cavendish Historical Society is working with the students at the Cavendish Town Elementary School, we found today's post from the Vermont Humanities Council "Civil War Book of Days," very much in keeping with what we have been talking about with the students. There is always the question, when did Christmas become a celebration in Cavendish? Clearly, from the article below, Christmas was definitely an important holiday in Vermont prior to the start of the Civil War.

Vermont Town Enjoys its First Christmas Tree and Works to Make Christmas a Happy Time for Children Despite the War

In 1913, St. Johnsbury, Vermont resident Sarah French set down her memories of Christmas 1862, 151 years ago. She wrote:

Fifty years ago people in St. Johnsbury spent little time in merrymaking, or in social functions of any kind, The country was in throes of the Civil War and there were few families where there was not a vacant chair and anxious hearts awaiting news from the battle fields.

The weekly Caledonian of December 19 and December 26 [1862] carried long lists of the Union soldiers from Vermont killed and wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Pink teas, luncheons or seven course dinners formed no part of social life and busy women spent much time making garments, rolling bandages, and scraping lint for wounded soldiers.

Not withstanding all this, it came to the minds of some of the kind people of the South Church that it was not right to shut out the children from the joys that rightly belonged to them. "Let us make the coming Christmas a happy time." The plan was heartily endorsed and soon took shape. "It shall be a Christmas in the Church." There were no department stores or art stores from which we might make choice of gifts and so loving fingers wrought and the needles flew merrily in willing hands and the pile of gifts grew apace.
. . .
As the time drew near Mr. Jewett began to fear we might be lacking things to go around. So he made a hurried trip to Boston where he invaded toy shops, and book stores, confectioners and fruit dealers, and when he returned we could see the successful conclusion of our labors.

Two tall fir trees found their places in front of the pulpit, and verily fir trees never bore such fruit before, at least in St. Johnsbury. . . .

Christmas was cold as Christmas should be and the hills were white with snow and Christmas Eve found the South Church full of happy expectant children and equally happy grown folks.

The trees fairly groaned with their burdens and underneath stood a huge basket filled with oranges, a great treat in those days, for Florida and California had not emptied their treasures of fruits into our markets and our oranges came from the Mediterranean or the West Indies.

Our pastor Rev. Lewis O. Brastow, who had recently returned home from nearly a year of service as chaplain of the Twelfth Vermont Regiment, was a bachelor and was a target for many gifts, books for his library, a dressing gown and slippers enough for a centipede. The Superintendent received a gold headed cane such as Superintendent are apt to have. Teachers had books and the children had just those things that children love, toys and games for the winter evenings, story books and boxes of candy.

Bright eyes and shining faces showed their appreciation of the gifts and when the senior class of elderly men led by Mr. [James K.] Colby of blessed memory, with Deacon Arnold Hutchinson, Levi Harlow and Francis Brigham received copies in most effulgent colors of the choicest of the nursery classics, "The Hare and The Tortoise," "Little Red Riding Hood" and others. Their faces were wreathed in smiles and I do not believe an Encyclopedia or a Webster Unabridged Dictionary would have been more acceptable.

The Candles burned low as we wished one another a Merry Christmas and wended our ways home. And so it was that the South Church in 1863 celebrated the birthday of our lord.

Transcribed by Lynn A. Bonfield and published in the North Star Monthly, December 2010. This entry was submitted by Lynn A. Bonfield.

Read letters from Vermont Civil War Soldiers about what Christmas was like for them. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dec 11, 2013: The 95th Birthday of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Today marks the 95th birthday of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Laureate in literature and Soviet dissident who lived approximately 18 of the 20 years he was exiled from Russia in Cavendish. During that time, he wrote The Red Wheel, a history of the Russian Revolution.

To mark this important anniversary, the Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) is planning a series of activities through out 2014. Among them are
• A discussion of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” on Saturday January 11. This is a joint project of CHS and the Cavendish Library and will take place at the Cavendish Library in Proctorsville. More information to follow.

• On Wednesday February 5, conductor and pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn will be discussing his father’s writing of the Red Wheel and his family’s life in Cavendish in the 1980’s. This is part of the Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays series and will take place at 7 pm at the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro. CHS will help to arrange rides for those who wish to attend this lecture.

• A children’s biography about Solzhenitsyn’s life will be published by CHS in the late spring and early summer.

To celebrate Solzhenitsyn’s birthday and his writing, consider the following resources:

Writing in English Available On-line
Prose Poetry


About Solzhenitsyn

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 7-Remembering Pearl Harbor

Below is an account of Cavendish's response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 from Barbara Kingsbury's "Chubb HIll Farm and Cavendish, Vermont: A Family and Town History 1876-1960:

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, Americans suddenly became united in their desire to fight. The apparatus for the draft, price control, and civil defense, as well as a larger Army and Navy, were already in place.

Residents of Cavendish listened to the radio news with mounting anxiety and were as aware of the international situation as other ordinary citizens anywhere in America. Even before the war, they had seen that there were a lot more jobs available. The unemployment of the early and mid 1930's had been reversed; now there were more jobs than workers. Cavendish, which had been somewhat apart from the economic panics and movements which had swept other parts of the nation in earlier years, joined the rest of the country in its participation in the Second World War.

Cavendish families had husbands or sons subject to the draft in both world wars. A great many more Cavendish men were drafted and served overseas in World War II than in World War I. While about 57 Cavendish men and one woman served in 1917-1918, at least 168 men and one woman served in the 1941-45 period. ....

As soon as war was declared, there were classes on how to spot enemy planes, rules for air raid drills and blackouts, a Red Cross War Drive, and an announcement that Springfield machine shops would train women for the work force. ....

To read more Cavendish during WWII, Kingsbury's book is available at the Cavendish Library, or it can be ordered from the Cavendish Historical Society. Checks should be made payable to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. The cost is $25 and $5 for shipping and handling. For more information, call 802-226-7807 or e-mail

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CHS Sponsors A Dickens of a Christmas

Charles Dicken’s, the author of "A Christmas Carol," embraced what he called his Carol Philosophy, - "a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." With this idea, is it not surprising that his writing, combined with the reign of Queen Victoria, helped to ignite many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today. 

As part of several Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) projects (Young Historians, Hands on History and Honoring Our Heritage) we will be offering a series of workshops at the Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES) in December- “A Dickens of a Christmas.”

This theme was chosen as many of the people who came to Cavendish in the 1800s were English; the origins of many of our Christmas traditions stem from the Victorian era; and the children were the ones who would start preparing months in advance for the holiday, making many of the ornaments for the tree.

Each grade will be doing something different: gilding pine cones, creating fortune walnuts, cornucopias,  and paper flowers and collecting greens from school property for swags and center pieces.

In true Victorian era fashion, CHS is seeking donations of the following:
-       Scraps of ribbon, lace
-       Gold, silver or white paint
-       Inexpensive paint brushes
-       Glitter
-       Old Christmas Cards
-       Glass vases for centerpieces.

If you have items to donate, they can be dropped off at the school office, or bring them to the CHS booth at the Nov. 30 Holiday Fair (Saturday), which is from 9-3 at CTES. If you would like to help with the various workshops, please call 802-226-7807 or e-mail 

Below are resources to help you learn more about the Victorian Christmas. 

• The Victorian House: The extent and type of decorations would have depended on income and the year (the era lasted from 1837 to 1901). While the Royal family’s tree was resplendent with lots of bows, ribbons, and lush ornaments, the average family tree would have reflected the talents of the children of the family, what was available in Mom’s scrap basket and what grew in the area. With the advent of the industrial age, glass ornaments became popular and fairly affordable for families, still their trees would have contained paper chains, garlands of popcorn and holly berries, cornucopias made from heavy paper, painted pine cones and the traditional gilded walnuts. The latter were opened on New Year’s Day to yield a fortune.

Wreaths, swags and centerpieces made from local greens, fruit, nuts, bows and whatever else was available adorned the various rooms in the house. While small presents were hung on the tree, the gift was the Christmas feast itself. 

• Christmas in New England: It is unclear how the first settlers in Cavendish celebrated Christmas in the late 1700’s. Puritans and Calvinists did not observe Christmas-thinking it was too close to the Catholic pageantry they wanted to avoid or too much like the Druids. However, the earliest settlers of our town were Baptist and Universalists. The latter group celebrated Christmas at this time. Some Baptists of that era would have celebrated in manners similar to the Universalists and others would have viewed it as a day of prayer and fasting. In 1659 Christmas was banned in Massachusetts. With new arrivals from Europe, particularly England, the ban was lifted in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1865 that Christmas was made an “official holiday in New England. There are interesting accounts of conflicts of Irish and Catholic people in New England who wanted Christmas Day off, but their employers thought otherwise.
It is interesting to note that “A Night Before Christmas” was first published in 1823 in Troy, NY. This poem, which provided America with its idea of Santa Claus, was heavily based on the Dutch traditions of that era.

Make Your Own Victorian Christmas: This BBC series includes activities, history, and links to their series “The Victorian Farm at Christmas.” 

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, published in 1843, helped to popularize the holiday both in England and the United States. 
-       The Musical full production from 2004. Considered to be 98% accurate to the book 

• Other Dickens Christmas stories. Several to consider include:

• First Christmas Card: The first card was sent in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole decided he was too busy to write individual Christmas greetings. He had his friend, the painter John Horsley, design a card that he could mail instead. Learn more at

• Games were very popular during the Victorian era. After Christmas dinner, the family would often play a variety of different games. Check the following resources:

• Caroling: The Victorian era saw the revival of the medieval tradition of caroling. Many of our carols come from this era including "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Good Christian Men Rejoice", "Silent Night", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "Away in a Manger", "We Three King,” "Jingle Bells," and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”