PORTSMOUTH – What do the floral cotton dress, wooden leg, clockwork in the North Tower Church and a pet cemetery have in common? These images appeared in the soon-to-be-published A History of Portsmouth New Hampshire in 101 Objects, a 224-page book of color photographs of objects whose stories paint a vivid and diverse picture of the city’s development.
The book came as a legacy project for Portsmouth NH 400 The anniversary is in 2023 and it was voluntarily produced by Stephanie Secord.
Seacord is the former Marketing Director of Strawberry Bank Museuma Portsmouth Atheneum previous owner Portsmouth Historical Society The trustee and currently the city’s media officer. She led a team consisting of the book’s editor, Kathleen Soldati, and a five-member editorial board that included leaders from Strawberry Bank MuseumThe Athenaeum, the Historical Society and Portsmouth Public Library.
“This volume will give readers a sense of who we are and where we are as Portsmouth continues its journey from before 1623 to beyond 2023,” Secord said.
Each of the 101 items was photographed with a full-page photo accompanied by an article by a local author.
Secord notes that the book’s content is not just a treasury of curiosity.
“The idea is that each element should be a representation of a central story for Portsmouth.”
Retell history one photo and article at a time
According to this view, Elizabeth Farish’s narration, which accompanies an image of the aforementioned cotton dress, sheds light on the broader story of Portsmouth’s relationship with the slave trade. Jessica Ross’ “Uncle Billy’s Leg Sunday” provides insight into the development of medicine here during the Civil War era. The clocks in the North Chapel are the centerpiece of Portsmouth District Attorney Robert Sullivan’s tale of an extraordinary collaboration to preserve an icon. Peter J. Michaud’s film Creatures Big and Small about a pet cemetery conveys the meaningful relationship locals have with their pets.
There are 80 contributing writers, some of whom do double duty, but they all have a unique connection to the topic they write about.
Mayor Deglan McKeacher contributed an article with a photo to the original Portsmouth brochure, Open Door City, 1923. Food writer Rachel Forrest wrote a tribute to Jelly’s hot dogs. Navy veteran D. Allan Kerr offers insight into the role of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its submarines. Howard Altschler, executive editor of the Seacoast Media Group, writes about the history of the Portsmouth Herald.
Secord says she sees the book as “a record of what we appreciate in 2023 on the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Portsmouth, a resource for historians and future generations, and an illuminating tour for the general reader into the city’s past.”
Discounted pre-orders of $25 for the book, which will be available in December for $29.99, are now accepted at RiverRun Bookstore, which publishes “A History of Portsmouth NH in 101 Objects” through Piscataqua Press.
Choice of 101 objects for Portsmouth
Seacord worked with an editorial board to determine which items would be selected and solicited feedback via crowdsourcing. “We were so helpful, collegial, and always ready to hear someone’s defense of something,” Seacord explained.
“The things we focused on were chosen because they are so dynamic,” she added. “Artifacts are physical connections to extraordinary events. The photography and the objects themselves are so amazing that it leads you to want to know more about the thing.”
Seacord asserts that the book is not a Portsmouth history in 101 pieces, it is a history.
“One of our goals is to get people to think about what they are going to put in the book. We want the conversation to continue and we have a Facebook page partially dedicated to that.”
The idea of using 101 pieces to tell the story of Portsmouth was proposed by Lawrence Yerdon of Strawberry Bank Museum, which was inspired by a similar project set up by the curators and study of the Smithsonian Museums.
“If we didn’t have pictures of David and Ralph, we wouldn’t have a book,” Secord said.
The point of view is important
As Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelly notes in her introductory article, this way of sharing history – emphasizing images accompanied by stories from the point of view of those who have close ties to the object on display – is appropriate.
She writes, “We learn about our history through the lens of the people who led it, but not often by the people who lived it.” “I would also argue that the written word is more excluded. Millions of people, over hundreds of years in our history, have had little ability to learn to read and write.”
Reading a pre-release copy of “The History of Portsmouth New Hampshire in 101 Objects” is really fun. The book is not only enlightening, it proves that Portsmouth is full of great stories – and great writers. Each volunteer essay writer has a distinct voice.
The trip through Portsmouth’s history stops at a few home museums and historic sites, but also includes Yoken’s, a barbershop, and The World Famous Elvis Room. In the end, “101 Pieces” celebrates the richness and liveliness of the city.
While sponsoring 80 writers as project manager seems daunting, Seacord describes it as a relief. She was moved to see how the writers value the moment captured in the photo and the opportunity to tell her story.
“Always, the response we got was ‘I am honored to be involved in the book.’ For me, it was about finding the right voices and letting them talk about their passion.”
“Kathleen Soldati was perfect to head this ship,” Secord added. The board chose her as editor because we needed to keep the authors’ voices alive and not everyone can do that. You have to edit in such a way that the object is in front of you rather than the object you want it to be. We wanted the book to be the voice of the community.”
In this way, Seacord says “101 Objects” is less about things and more about the story of the people behind them.
Pre-release orders may be placed in riverrunbookstore.com, by calling RiverRun at 603-431-2100, or by visiting the store at 21 Daniel St. in Portsmouth.