Historical Society Offers Talk on Local Wit & Wisdom: Humor in 19th Century New England

Thursday, October 11 at 7 PM at Highland Lake Grange Hall

Press Release

The Andover Historical Society, with a grant from New Hampshire Humanities, will sponsor a Humanities to Go program presented by storyteller Jo Radner entitled Wit and Wisdom: Humor in 19th Century New England. Free and open to the public, the program will take place at 7 PM on Thursday, October. 11,  at the Highland Lake Grange Hall, 7 Chase Hill Road in East Andover.

Have you ever wondered what New Englanders did on long winter evenings before cable, satellite and the internet? In the decades before and after the Civil War, our rural ancestors created neighborhood events to improve their minds. Male and female community members composed and read aloud homegrown, handwritten literary “newspapers” full of keen verbal wit. Sometimes serious, sometimes sentimental, but mostly very funny, these “newspapers” were common in villages across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and revealed the hopes, fears, humor, and surprisingly daring behavior of our forebears. Radner will share excerpts from her forthcoming book about these “newspapers,” and especially material that was written in Andover.

According to Radner, East Andover was the source of one of the most important sets of documents for her research: The Kearsarge Fountain, a handwritten newspaper of which nine issues have survived (in the NH Historical Society in Concord), were written between February 1848 and March 1850. The contents were written by local people, and the papers were edited by George E. Emery, William A. Bachelder, and Mary E. Bachelder (who later married George Emery), and were evidently kept in the Emery's Andover household. The contents of the Kearsarge Fountain are wide-ranging, including tongue-in-cheek parodies, sarcastic analyses of the folly of the Gold Rush, and of the modern passion for inventions, arguments for and against bachelorhood, and sincere poetry about the local neighborhood.

Storyteller Jo Radner received her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before returning to her family home in western Maine as a freelance storyteller and oral historian, she spent 31 years as professor at American University in Washington, D.C., teaching literature, folklore, American studies, Celtic studies, and storytelling. She has published books and articles in all those fields, and is now writing a book titled Performing the Paper: Rural Self-improvement in Northern New England, about a 19th-century village tradition of creating and performing handwritten literary newspapers. She is past president of the American Folklore Society and the National Storytelling Network.