One of the things I enjoy about being a Boston By Foot docent is that it opens the door to other tours, lectures, and readings that might not otherwise have come my way. One of these happened on Saturday when I went on a tour called, “Let’s Talk About Food—Visiting Captains of Food Industries” given by author and lecturer Anthony Sammarco.
All those captains of industry were, in fact, dead and we “visited” them by covering a lot of turf in Milton Cemetery. I’d had no idea that so many people who created or were involved in the food industry came from Massachusetts in general or Milton, a suburban community south of Boston, in particular.
Unlike other garden cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Forest Hills, Milton Cemetery does not have big ostentatious tombs and ornate statues so the stories lie with the people who are interred there. Here’s who we met on the cemetery food tour, introduced by Mr. Sammarco who knows his material and does an excellent job of communicating it.
- The Copeland Family Lot: Charles C. Copeland made his money in soft drinks. He founded the Milton Spring Beverage Company, which produced ginger ale, sassafras and root beer soda before becoming a Pepsi bottling company. The Copeland family also bottled cider and water and sold homemade ice cream at their Copeland Farms stand.
- Josiah Bent: New England sailors at sea ate many a water cracker produced by Bent’s Cracker Factory, founded in 1801 by Josiah Bent. Also known as Pilot Crackers, they were rolled and cut by hand, perforated with forks and baked in large ovens until golden brown. Impervious to spoilage, Bent’s crackers were part of a ship’s stores as it headed out to sea and were also eaten on land with bowls of steaming “chowdah.” (Did you know that “cracker” is an onomatopoeic word based on the sound this baked good made when broken?)
- Wallace Lincoln Pierce (Pronounced Purse): W. L. Pierce was the second president of a company well known as purveyors of fine foods and beverages. S.S. Pierce, founded by his father, Samuel Stillman Pierce, started by providing basic staples but then moved to more exotic foods like English lime marmalade and European wines. S.S. Pierce was known for elegant packaging and impressive delivery in wagons drawn by teams of Percheron horses. The company stayed in the family for four generations. On the Boston By Foot tour of the Victorian Back Bay, we walk past the location where an iconic S.S. Pierce store once stood.
- John Sias: He owned a dairy farm that lasted for three generations and delivered milk to homes in large pails.
The Receiving Tomb: New England winters can be very cold and were even colder in the nineteenth century, which marked the end of the Little Ice Age. Digging a grave by hand in the rock-hard soil was impossible so bodies were held in this receiving tomb until they could be buried in the spring. Because we were on a tour, Superintendent Therese Desmond opened the tomb so we could view the empty—but still cold—interior.
- Edmund Baker: The Baker Lot is occupied by several members of the Baker family. Baker’s Chocolate, a brand purchased by General Foods, is the oldest manufacturer of chocolate in the United States. Edmund Baker, the grandson of founder Dr. James Baker, was an engineer and cartographer who pursued his interests free of financial worry thanks to the success of Baker’s cocoa and chocolate.
- Josiah Webb: Another chocolate baron, Josiah took the knowledge he gained working at the Baker factor and founded a competing firm called Webb & Twombly. He was sued by Walter Baker (Harvard, 1811) and forced to pay a judgment of $1,000.
- George Nickerson: An innkeeper, George Nickerson ran the Milton Hill House, a residential inn and restaurant where his wife, Mary, worked as the cook.
- James Murray Forbes: James M. Forbes was president of the Forbes Syndicate, which purchased the Baker Chocolate company from the estate of Henry Pierce in 1897.
- Doctor Jonathan Ware: More chocolate. Dr. Ware married Mary Ann Tileston and in 1841 invested her fortune in what became one of Milton’s four major chocolate companies. Dr. Ware’s brand was a “homeopathic” chocolate that was supposed to be caffeine free.
- Howard Johnson: We all know who this man was. Howard Johnson built his fortune—and an entire chain of restaurants and hotels—on a brand of ice cream with high butterfat content. At a time when most ice cream contained 15% butterfat, he increased the content to 22% and created the famous 28 flavors. He also sold the first restaurant franchise in the United States. Unaccountably, his tombstone does not have either an orange roof or the famous Simple Simon and the Pieman logo.
It was a hot day so we were all delighted when Ms. Desmond and Mr. Sammarco concluded the tours with an ice cream treat for everyone, appropriately enough at the Howard Johnson gravesite. I did not have chocolate.
This post gives only a quick overview of the wealth of information provided by Mr. Sammarco. He has written several books about local communities and businesses, including Howard Johnson’s restaurants. He knows pretty much anything you might want to know about his topics and answers questions at length. You can see a list of his upcoming tours and lectures on his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/anthony.sammarco.58