One Hundred Years On, Wellesley Observes Veterans Day

Alden R. Ludlow, contract Archivist
November 11, 2018

November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, observing the end of fighting during World War I. In the United States, Veterans Day is a day set aside for remembrance of those who died fighting for our country, as well as living veterans who have served in the armed forces. The occasion was first commemorated by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919.

The war had an impact on Wellesley and its residents, and the town was quick to establish organizations to support returning veterans, including American Legion Post 72. The American Legion was formed at the close of World War I as a service organization for veterans. The post was established by one of Wellesley’s more extraordinary residents, who had an impact on the town despite his short life, John Joseph “Jack” Early (1896-1921). The building allocated for the post was originally located at 492 Washington Street, where the Tolles Parsons Center is now located. The land and building had been purchased on behalf of the new Legion post by Isaac Sprague in 1922.

By all accounts, Jack Early was an extraordinary leader. He attended Wellesley public schools, then went into business as a stock messenger boy. He had an interest in the military and was an early volunteer for the U.S. Army in May 1917, as the war raged in Europe. He attended the Officer’s Training Camp in Plattsburgh, New York, where he was commissioned Second Lieutenant; he was among the youngest officers in the U.S. Army at that time.

In May 1917 he traveled to Camp Mills, where he joined the newly formed Rainbow Division, but then was assigned to the 166th Infantry Division and became Captain of Company L of the 3rd Division. He served with the 166th in Lorraine, France, and saw much action there; by all accounts he performed heroically and was awarded the Legion of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

In May 1918 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant, and later, in August 1918, he was assigned Adjutant of the 1st Battalion. In this capacity he served as a Summary Court Officer, as well as Officer in Charge of Civil Affairs and Inferior Provost Court for Rolandseck, Rolandswerth, and Unkelbach in Germany.

When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, Early was still at the front; he served with the Army of Occupation until May 1919. During this time, he attended a gathering of veterans which advocated for establishing a veterans’ organization; the American Legion was born from this meeting. Upon his return to the United States, he would establish Wellesley Post 72 of the American Legion and served as its first Commander. In addition to his Legion involvement, Early also got involved in town politics; in 1920 he was elected as a Wellesley Selectman, and was reelected in 1921 for a three-year term.

However, he would never finish his term. Early died in Ohio of a heart attack following a Rainbow Division reunion. It is likely this heart attack was brought on by complications from injuries and ailments he suffered relating to his war experience.

In preparing the American Legion Wellesley Post 72 Collection for research use, one of the highlights discovered was the original photograph album documenting the founding and early days of the Post. It contains many photographs of the original building, as well as photographs of the funerals of several notable Wellesley veterans who died during, or just after, the war. All photographs are annotated, and images include photographs of the early preparation and renovation of the original Legion Hall at 492 Washington Street, the Legion Womens’ Auxiliary Lawn Party in 1921, the Memorial Day parades of 1921 and 1922, and the funeral processions of Raymond Moore (1921), Jack Early (1921), and Joseph Ramponi (1922).

As we observe this solemn occasion, we can reflect on the central role veterans have taken in our community since the end of the war 100 years ago. We thank veterans, past and present, for their service, not only in the military, but also, like Jack Early, for their service to their communities and veterans’ organizations.

The American Legion Post 72 Collection was processed with generous grant support from the Wellesley Community Preservation Commission (CPC) and the Massachusetts’s State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB). In addition to the Post 72 Collection, the Wellesley Historical Society also holds the Early Family Papers, which includes the wartime correspondence of Jack Early, as well as other documents relating to his life.

Wellesley’s Spiritualist Past: One Family’s Travel Through Space and Time

Alden Ludlow, contract Archivist
October 30, 2018

At this time of year people may be wary of things that go bump in the night. With Halloween, the following All Souls Day, and the celebration of Dia de Muertos, we seem just a bit closer to the Dearly Departed. Of course, here at the Wellesley Historical Society, we are always closer to the spirits of the past. Some of our collections even document 19th century experiments to contact eras long gone, attempts to reach out to spirits from past eras… and even other planets.

Wellesley was home to two of the most prominent practitioners of spiritualism in the country at that time, William Denton (1823-1883), and his wife Elizabeth Melissa Foote Denton (1826-1916). William argued that there was “a wide realm lying between the known physical and the comparatively unknown spiritual, — a realm as yet almost entirely unexplored” (Denton, iii). The Dentons felt these connections, between the physical and spiritual worlds, needed to be explored. William took spiritualism to another level, attempting to demonstrate that it had a scientific basis; he believed that ancient objects and artifacts could be used to communicate with ancient peoples and connect with ancient places, and that these observations could be scientifically studied and recorded. This “science” was Psychometry, and those who acted as mediums were called “psychometers.”

The Wellesley Historical Society archives hold the Denton Family Papers, a veritable treasure-trove for those interested in this fascinating pseudo-science. Denton was by profession a geologist, lecturing far and wide in the United States and Canada; he worked with mining companies, government agencies, and engineers, lending his expertise to their business ventures. Denton, however, had interests beyond just pure science. From the 1850s until his death in 1883, Denton published extensively on science, religion, spiritualism, and psychometry; for him, all these disciplines were connected.

How did psychometry work? In his The Soul of Things, he notes that “the specimen to be examined was generally placed upon the forehead, and held there during the examination; but this was not absolutely necessary, some psychometers being able to see when holding a specimen in the hand” (36). In his published works, his psychometers were his wife Elizabeth, or sisters, Elizabeth Denton Seybold and Anna Denton Cridge; he occasionally used a spiritualist medium while traveling on his lecture tours. His unpublished notebooks and journals, in the Society’s collections, reveal that it was a family affair, with his children often participating. 

William wanted to demonstrate that natural objects, like rocks, acted like a photographic plate, with impressions recorded over long expanses of time. He asks, “Why could rocks not receive impressions of surrounding objects, some of which have been in the immediate neighborhood for years, and why could they not communicate these in a similar manner to sensitive persons, thus giving us the clue to the conditions of the earth and its inhabitants during the vast eras of the past?” (Denton, 36).

“Impressions” on these artifacts acted like a series of pictures. The descriptions of these impressions read like motion pictures, long before that technology had been developed. Psychometers had the ability to “behold pictures connected with the history of those specimens and perceive sensations that have been treasured up in them” (Denton, 255). While the psychometer was engaged with the artifact, William would write down the impressions, often illustrating them with drawings of what was “seen.”

In the collections we have rocks, fossils, and other artifacts that William Denton collected for research purposes. But they were also used for psychometric experiments; their value went beyond just being geological specimens. The Wellesley Historical Society holdings include William and Elizabeth’s journals, book manuscripts, lecture notes, correspondence on psychometry, as well as hundreds of artifacts used in their experiments.

Much of the Denton’s psychometric research is a reflection of the context in which they lived, a time of increased industrial and scientific progress, a time in which religious doctrines and values were being questioned. The scientific and the spiritual were diverging, and many, like the Dentons, sought to find a common foundation for both.

As we approach the Halloween season, remember the Dentons. Pick up an ancient stone, or an old object, and see what you can glean from it. You may find the veil separating the remote past from the present is thinner than you think.


The reprocessing of the Wellesley Historical Society Denton Family Papers has been made possible by support from Mass Humanities, whose grants inspire considered thought, conversation, and action through the humanities. The Wellesley Historical Society is happy to participate in their mission to improve civic life in Massachusetts. See more about what Mass Humanities does here: Explore the Wellesley Historical Society on the web:

Quotes from: Denton, William and Elizabeth M. Foote Denton. 1888. The Soul of Things; or Psychometric Researches and Discoveries. Wellesley, Massachusetts: Denton Publishing Company. 8th edition, revised. Originally published 1863.