Beauing Around

Our Creative Fellow has been doing a deep research dive into a book that we all love: the Linguistic Atlas of New England, a multi-volume title documenting regional accents and dialects in New England circa 1931-1933. Researchers visited 213 communities and asked 416 people what words they used to describe common situations (for instance, “lightly raining”) and also how they pronounced common phrases. Pronunciation was documented via a modified version of IPA transcription and printed directly onto maps, with a sidebar listing respondents’ words and phrases.

In honor of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, we thought we’d highlight some of the pages in the Linguistic Atlas documenting interpersonal relationships.

First, here is the record of how respondents asked, “May I escort you home?”

May I Escort You Home

Don’t miss the very sweet response next to 29: “That’s what you say if you want to shine up to a girl after [prayer meeting].”

Presumably after having a nice time escorting someone home, a couple may end up “courting” or “sparking.” (You can see the “delightful” Rhode Island accent in the IPA transcription of “sparking” below.)

I’m not sure how I feel about referring to a marriageable young woman as “good sparking wood,” but I guess no one asked my opinion.

There’s also the (possibly more serious?) “Keeping Company,” including the memorable “beauing her around.”

Keeping Company

If you’ve been keeping company with someone nice, you may find that you become quite fond of her.

Fond of her

Maybe you even want to make things official?!

Of course, SHE may not want to make things official. She might even… GIVE HIM THE MITTEN!

Gave Him the Mitten






Moving Our Special Collections

We’ve been in FULL SWING with the first phase of moving our collections into their new, climate-controlled stacks. It’s involved copious sweat, a few tears, and minimal blood, but our art and architecture folios are now on designated shelving, and our Rhode Island collections are settling into their new homes.

book moving

We couldn’t have done it without tireless and meticulous help from a fantastic team from William B. Meyer. Phase two of our moving will begin in a couple of weeks – stay tuned for updates!

book moving 2

Recipes from the Girl in White

Those of you with a great memory for detail may recall that PPL’s 2016 exhibition, On the Table, included a book published by the Providence Gas Company entitled Favorite Old Rhode Island Recipes From the Girl in White. Said book includes baking temperatures and times for common foods– valuable information to have on hand at the time of its publication, as ovens with temperature increments only became commonplace in American homes around 1945.

Girl in White - PPL

We mention this today because, sadly, the “Girl in White”, also known as Sylvia Denhoff, passed away last week at the age of 99.8 years. The Providence Journal ran a fascinating obituary for Denhoff that includes her recipe for almond cookies. (We’re grateful to Matthew Lawrence over at Law and Order Party for drawing our attention to this journalistic tribute.)

If you’d like to take a peek at more of Denhoff’s favorite Rhode Island recipes, her book is available at PPL for on-site use.

Keri King: Collaborative Research, Collage, and Creativity


In conjunction with our annual Exhibition & Program Series, PPL offers a Creative Fellowship for a Rhode Island artist who creates new work incorporating imagery from or inspired by the library’s Special Collections. Our 2017 Creative Fellow, Keri King, is a fantastic Providence-based artist who creates collage and illustration-based work. Keri has been researching in Special Collections and in our historical magazine collections for several months; below is the first of two guest blog posts showcasing Keri’s creative process!

In my work, I like to blend drawing and collage. I incorporate a lot of source imagery from magazines, newspaper clippings, vintage posters, and such, into each piece. I enjoy how each cut-out element has its own history and adds to an overall narrative with tonal/ textural results.

Research is an essential part of my work flow! For most projects, my process is as follows:

  1. I sketch.
  2. I draft what I like to call my “grocery list” (figuring out what source images I need) & site “shopping centers” (where I can find those images).
  3. I research (I look, I tab, I get a little off track while exploring, I check things out from the library…)
  4. I play with a xerox machine.
  5. I collage.
  6. And I’m back to drawing, synthesizing the varied materials within a collage into one cohesive image.

My process is slightly different for the Creative Fellowship at the library, where I’m creating an 8 foot x 8 foot mural that will be displayed inside the Empire Street entrance to the library. I’ve proposed a collage illustration of a dinner party, with families from a handful of time periods in America coming around a table to eat.


One distinction from my usual research process is that I can’t just pull things off the shelves in Special Collections. Instead, I use the library’s “human Google”: I tell Angela, the Curatorial Assistant, what I’m looking for, and she pulls books and magazines from the stacks for me, which I then look at in the Reading Room. (I got a tour of Special Collections at the beginning of my fellowship, so I have some idea of the frankly magical wealth of resources that are available to me.)


The stuff that Angela finds is always much more than what I bargained for. She thinks of sources I wouldn’t ever have on my radar, and these unexpected shares lead to new, playful connections in my work. My process is energized by our collaborative research.

Since the summer, I’ve looked at all kinds of things, including:

-images of food and characters


-images of locations that could provide a backdrop

Sunken gardens, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

I’m leaning towards an alfresco backdrop, and I’ve been focusing on outdoor locations in Rhode Island.



One day I went picnic table shopping.

-advertising from old home magazines


I’m fascinated with food advertising from the 1940s into the 1950s, much of which is not very appetizing. I particularly love this savory tomato aspic gelatin. I’m exploring the possibility of a savory aspic hostess.

Because Special Collections materials are often fragile, I can’t Xerox them, so I’ve been working with high-resolution scans and photographs. Right now I’m in my collage and drawing phase.

Keri’s mural will be unveiled on March 1st at the opening event for our 2017 Exhibition and Program Series. Stop by any time between then and June 30th to see the final results of Keri’s work. She’ll also be giving an artist’s talk at the library on April 30th–mark your calendars!

RI Photographs, hot off the digital press!

Thanks to our Digital Projects Manager and some very speedy scanning technicians, we’ve uploaded our first big batch of Rhode Island photographs to the Providence Public Library’s digital library!

These photos, from our Rhode Island Photograph Collection, show places from Glocester to Newport (with plenty of Providence); there are Vanderbilts and tradesmen, Ida Lewis and her dog, and people testing out early airplanes.

The images can be browsed, or can be searched by creator, subject, keyword, or date. Stay tuned for many more images of Rhode Island’s past as we continue with our digitization process!

Solving the Riddle

Thanks to some helpful transcribers, we can now offer at least a rough transcription of the riddle presented last week. Here’s the text:

In the Creation I was made
And bound by cord, into my bed
And in it I’m oblig’d to keep
While I have life awake or asleep
Yet I can [run?] tho I am bound
In half a minute five miles [round?]
And all the time can keep my bed
Prehaps not more my cover Red [?]
Which when I sleep doth cover me
But when I wake I naked be
In [so tender?] under evr’y touch
Tho n’er so gentle hurts me [such?]
Which is the heaven I’m well [us’d?]
And I scarce by any [arm?] [abus’d?]
Tho’ I have for my masters all
Both man & beast both great & small
Of different colours I pertake
But call’d most beautiful when black
And many crimes are charged on me
Pride coveting and adultery
And many more I have to bear
Tho I am deaf & cannot hear
And I am dumb ’tis known full well
And I can neither taste nor smell
Sometimes, I do water make
Tho never I single drop I take
I all my life did never think
That I should ever want to drink
I am a servant all agree
Yet I have some waiters two or three
I never taste their drink nor meat
But always live by what they eat
My appetite is never satisfied
To eat & drink I am denied
Yet I am always plump & round
as any thing that may be found
I live with all it is well known
And yet I die with every one
And now you may surprised be
With this description had of me
The [best?] thing after what is said
Is to tell what use of me is made
But half the use I shall not tell
For it would many volumes fill
But if it had not been for me
The Merchant ne’er would trade to sea
Nor farmers that live on the land
Their farming business understand
No [curious] work had ever been done
In brass or [on?] wood or stone
No liberal art had been professet
If man by me had not been blest
The sun would ne’er appear in sight
Nor moon be seen in fairest night
All this more had not been done
If I never had been known
And now ’tis time for to pass on
And tell the things I’ve seen and done
For tho in bed I’m bound to stay
I travel much by land and sea

I was with Adam at the time
When Mother Eve was brought to him
And when the serpent did beguile
I was in the garden all the while
After they ate forbidden fruits
I help’d them make [?]
I am I now must [surely] own
Something the cause of what was done
I was in Cain and Abel’s day
And I saw Cain his brother slay
I also saw the old world drown’d
And in the [?] was found
But I [forbear] to enumerate
I find the truth will be too great
And I your patience shall intrude
If I don’t hasten to conclude
I’ll only say I’ve witness been
Of many things none else have seen
When you this riddle do unfold
You’ll own the truth of all that’s told.

And we even have a potential answer: The Eye. If that does, or doesn’t, sound right to you, you can vote on it:

Or, if you have a better solution, you can leave it in the comments.

A 200-Year-Old Riddle Is Waiting for You

I came across this interesting item a little while back (click for large image):

It’s a manuscript riddle, apparently written at Mount Vernon (maybe) to commemorate a celebration of American Independence. It’s probably from sometime around 1812, since the riddle is written on the verso of a published anti-War-of-1812 resolution of the Providence Federal Republicans dated 8 April 1812:

It’s easy to imagine the riddle’s author grabbing a nearby scrap of paper, essentially a piece of political ephemera that you wouldn’t have thought twice about recycling at the time, and penning the riddle on the back.

As far as I know, this is a riddle that hasn’t been read—or solved—in a very long time, which is where you come in. If you’d like to contribute to the transcription, just visit: and click on the “edit” link next to “Current Page Transcription.” I got the first few lines started, beginning with the information at the top and then the first few lines of the riddle:

In the Creation I was made
And bound by cord, into my bed

You can use some basic html formatting, for instance to create horizontal rules (<hr />) or strike through a line (<del>). Uncertain or illegible portions can go in brackets, with a guess or just a question mark ([?]). When you’re finished adding and correcting the transcription, just click the “Edit transcription” button. And if you have any difficulty with the page, you can just contact me.

I’m looking forward to finding out what the riddle says, and, even better, what the solution is. And there might even be a prize for the first person to solve it.

Commission of a Lieutenant from a famous naval family

Sorting through a fascinating pile of flat items, I came across this little gem, accomplished on vellum, signed by James Madison on March 5, 1813.  Madison hereby commissions Raymond Henry Jones Perry as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Navy.  Perry (1789-1826) was the son of Christopher Raymond Perry (1761-1818), who fathered five sons who served in the navy.  His oldest, Commodore Oliver Hazard (1785-1819), was the “Hero of Lake Erie” in the War of 1812.  Raymond was the second boy, was eventually made captain, and a year after this commission (May 18, 1814) he married Marianne DeWolf, daughter of James DeWolf of Bristol, RI.  Raymond’s younger brother, Matthew Calbraith (1794-1858) was the famous Commodore who opened Japan in 1854.  Younger sons J. Alexander and Nathaniel Hazard served as a midshipman and purser, respectively.

To "promote harmony and liberal intercourse"

Just acquired this nice circular which was sent to doctors in Rhode Island in February of 1812, advertising the formation of the Rhode Island Medical Society (, and asking recipients to support their petition to the General Assembly for a charter.  Pardon Bowen and Levi Wheaton were the senders, and the recipient of this circular was a Dr. Rowland Greene, of Foster, RI.  Bowen, Greene, and Wheaton were all from families which produced many well-respected doctors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

We know more about Pardon Bowen (1757-1826) who was born in Providence, graduated Brown in 1775, embarked as a sugeon on a privateer in 1779 fitted out to destroy British commerce.  The ship was captured and sent to Halifax, where he spent seven months in prison.  He continued to serve in this capacity, with similar results, until finally his ship siezed a good prize, and with the money he made he was able to set up a practice in Providence.  He wrote an account of the Yellow Fever in Providence in 1805, was a Trustee of Brown and a Fellow of the American Antiquarian Society, and was a founding member (and first officer for 7 years) of the RI Medical Society.

ALMOST as popular (and useful) as the Bible!

We recently acquired four (4) late eighteenth-century almanacs, two printed in Newport, and two in Worcester, MA. The Newport almanacs came from an auction in New York City, but were in fact (ironically, as these things go) de-accessioned as duplicates from a Providence library which is less than three miles away. The Worcester almanacs came from a dealer in Pennsylvania. All are destined for the Rhode Island collection.

Milton Drake, who compiled the standard bibliography, Almanacs of the United States, 1639-1875 (1962), rightly stated that “any portrait of early American life that does not include the almanac as a vital part of its fabric is severely deficient. Imagine a picture of life in the period, 1925-1945, without an important place for radio broadcasts . . . or the mid-20th century without paperback books.”
I highly recommend his short but thorough introduction to anyone delving into almanacs. Most telling (in terms of their vital importance) to me is his citation of an article written by Samuel Low in 1768:

“It is easy to prove that no book we read (except the Bible) is so much valued, and so serviceable to the community. Almanacks serve as clocks and watches for nine-tenths of mankind; and in fair weather are far more sure and regular than the best time-piece manufactur’d here or in London. Twenty gentlemen in company will hardly be able, by the help of their thirty-guinea watches, to guess within two hours of the true time of night. One says it is nine o’clock, another half after eight—a third, half after ten; whilst the poor peasant, who never saw a watch, will tell the time to a fraction, by the rising and setting of the moon, and some particular stars, which he learns from his almanack.”