Friday, June 01, 2018

Hi, friends:

Steve Pfarrer is on vacation this week, but before he left, he filed his moving cover story about Holocaust survivor Irene Butter, who recently collaborated with married Florence residents John Bidwell and Kris Holloway to tell her story in a new memoir, “Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope,” published by Amherst’s White River Press.

Originally from Amsterdam, Butter now lives in Michigan, but Bidwell and Holloway, who co-authored the book, are active and influential in the Valley business community, and beyond: Bidwell is currently the executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County (he’s also a Gazette columnist), and Holloway is president of CISabroad, a Northampton-based organization that offers study-abroad programs for college and university students. A curiosity about the world and other people infuses the memoir, about which author Jacqueline Sheehan writes: “Not since ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ have I been so touched by a book that grapples with the Holocaust. This book is a revelation about what sustains the human spirit, what is far stronger than hate.” 

Maybe you also saw the depressing article in The New York Times last month about how people are “forgetting” the Holocaust, or never learning accurate information about it in the first place. A survey by an organization called the Claims Conference found that many adults, particularly millennials, lacked rudimentary knowledge about the atrocities that took place. Among the findings: Americans are grossly underestimating the number of Jews killed (approximately 6 million — not 2 million or fewer, as many people wrongly believe), and they don’t know what Auschwitz was. So, right: It’s more important than ever to read stories like Butter’s, to “never forget.”

Collective memory is powerful, and it lives on in all kinds of ways, through all kinds of historians. Consider Gazette reader Jim Mias, who recently wrote in with a “Lifeline” question. Here’s what he asks:

“As the old New Haven-Northampton canal enters Northampton from Easthampton, can anyone describe in words exactly where it went as it passed through Northampton? I’ve often wondered how wide it was, assumed it sort of followed King Street, but I would love to know what current structures it actually passed over, underneath, next to? It was short-lived due to the railroads, but I just can’t wrap my brain around boats coming from New Haven and re-entering the Connecticut River via canal and through town.”

I brought Mias’ question to Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton, who pointed me to an 1831 map on their website, at historic-northampton.org, which shows the canal route. “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” Sanders said. She gave me a very deep and detailed history of the canal that I can’t fully squeeze in here. Did you know, for instance, that the first successful canal in America was at South Hadley Falls in the 1790s? Or that the same engineers who laid out the Erie Canal came to the Valley in 1825 and laid out the route from Northampton to New Haven?  “All over America, people were proposing and creating canals,” Sanders told me. “It was Canal Fever.” 

Anyway, to answer Mias’ question, “It’s complicated,” Sanders said. “You can see some of the remnants of the canal off of Lovefield Avenue when you’re on the Northampton/Easthampton bike trail.” But after the railroad arrived in Northampton in 1845, she continued, “The canal went bust. In this area, so much of it has been obliterated. In Northampton, the traces of it are near the Easthampton line and at the terminus, where it comes into the Connecticut River, where the community rowing dock is located. Our landscape has been so modified and manipulated, it’s hard to try to re-imagine what it used to be like.” Her advice to Mias: “Take this 1831 map, and try to walk it.”

And on a different subject, my advice: Go to the WGBY Asparagus Festival this Saturday, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., at the Hadley Town Common, off Route 9, in Hadley. I love this fest — it’s one of my favorites of the season, a really great way to celebrate the start of summer. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Finally, make sure to check out Brittany Nickerson’s installment of “Potluck,” in which local chefs, farmers and food lovers share their favorite recipes. Nickerson is the author of “Recipes From the Herbalist’s Kitchen,” and she has some great ideas about how to put your herbs and wild greens to good use this summer.

Brooke Hauser