Many of the pre-1921 poems published on the Niagara Falls Poetry Project website are found with the assistance of Charles Dow’s Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls, published in 1921. Chapter 8 of this two-volume set deals with the music, poetry, and fiction published about Niagara Falls in chronological order, starting in 1604. Many entries are purely bibliographic; that is they list the author, title, and source of a poem. Others contain summaries or editorial comments by Dow about the poem, the full text of some of the shorter poems, and excerpts from some of the longer poems. Dow does have the habit of changing words and punctuation, and sometimes skipping sections without giving indication that he is doing so, so whenever possible, I go to the original source. Dow’s work is monumental, and I am in awe of what he accomplished. If I find a pre-1921 poem that is not in Dow, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, of smugness that I managed to find something that he hadn’t.
Case in point: in the entry for 1867, Dow cites a poem by M.F. Bigney – Visit of the Sunbeams to the Falls of Niagara in Bigney’s book The Forest Pilgrims and Other Stories. I searched for the book and found a full-text copy online through the Hathi Trust. After adding this poem to the site, I then looked at the rest of his poems, and discovered one called Lines Written for a Lady’s Hair Album, at Niagara, which I proceeded to add to the site. I admit that I had never heard of hair albums, so I conducted a search for them. My wife, Louise, had known about hair braidings that people (including her grandmother) had framed and hung to commemorate the passing of a loved one, but not albums. The search led to an interesting article Hairy Memories: Hair albums used braided hair to create memories by James Rada, Jr., and to a Brock University Archives online exhibition called Stories Told Through Scrapbooking. One of the scrapbooks in the exhibition is the Bradt Family Hair Album, with locks of hair from the Bradt family (United Empire Loyalists who settled in Niagara) from 1843 to 1976. David Sharron, Head of Archives & Special Collections at Brock University, tells me that “We love the Bradt hair album here. It is always a showstopper on tours.”
On the exhibition page, a poem from page 11 of the album had been transcribed. Titled Resignation to the Approaching Period of Decline and Decay, it had originally been written in 1812, just after the outbreak of the War of 1812, by James Melloy, and dedicated to “The Misses Price.” One of them, Susannah (Price) Dunn, had been born in 1808 and died in 1887. A lock of her hair had been included in the album.
So today feels like a real win for me. I’ve managed to add three 19th century poems to the website (only one of which had been indexed by Dow), learned about a death rite that I had previously never known about, and added a new dimension to my upcoming presentation, The Niagara Way of Death, to the 2023 Popular Culture Conference in San Antonio, Texas.