The Poets' Album

by Melissa Cybulski, LHS Board Member
February 10, 2022

Cover of The Poets' Album compiled in 1864 for the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair from the collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society

I wanted to share the item in our collection at the Longmeadow Historical Society that first helped me begin to piece together the connections between one of the world’s most celebrated poets and two cousins who shared a name and a deep connection to Longmeadow.

If asked to pick my favorite piece in our collection at the Storrs House Museum, without a doubt I would pick this 1864 “Poets' Album” containing handwritten and autographed poems and poem excerpts submitted by prominent 19th-century poets and writers.  The writings were contributed to raise money for the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, a fundraiser organized to benefit wounded Union Soldiers during the Civil War.

Hand-drawn and colored Title Page

The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair took place over two weeks in February and March of 1864 at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, NY. It was an enormous affair featuring entertainment, food, art displays, and vendor booths selling countless donated items to help ease the burden of soldiers who were wounded fighting for the Union cause.  It is estimated that Fair raised $300,000 (equivalent to $5.1 million today) for the Union soldiers.

Interior of Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, 1864
Lith. of A. Brown & Co.

One room at the Fair featured several of these “autograph books” that had been solicited by various Sanitary Fair committee women to be sold at auction.  One book contained the autographs of all members of Congress in 1864.  Another featured handwritten patriotic sentiments and letters of support from noted authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and newspaper man, Horace Greeley.

The album that found its way into our collection, though, is deemed “The Poets' Album.” It is a brown leather-bound book measuring approximately 12” by 15”. The amount of wear on the cover likely indicates that it has had a lot of admirers in its lifetime. It was sold from the Autograph Room at the Fair for $200 and the winning bidder ultimately donated it to Rev. Richard Salter Storrs (1821-1900) a beloved Brooklyn minister and editor of The Drum Beat, the daily newspaper published during the course of the fair.  Storrs ultimately donated it to his cousins up in Longmeadow to be held in the collection of the Historical Society.

The Poets' Album contains more than thirty handwritten poems and excerpts of poems by a real "Who’s Who” of early Victorian literati.  Among them are Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Marie Child, Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and even Springfield’s own, J.G. Holland. Most poems still bear the original crease lines from where they were folded and mailed by the author to the committee member tasked with collecting the individual autographs and affixing them into one larger volume. It has been such a thrill for me, an unabashed nerd of 19th century literary minutiae, to spend time going through this album. 

Any Emily Dickinson in there? No, but she wouldn’t be.  Though the 1860’s are believed to be Dickinson’s most productive years as a poet, she did not willingly share her poems with the world.  Fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime and all anonymously.  Four of them were in the Springfield Republican. How then did Richard Salter Storrs of Brooklyn acquire three of the reclusive Amherst poet’s works to publish anonymously in his short-lived newspaper, The Drum Beat, which was published only for the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair?

Enjoy a look at some of the autographed poems from The Poet’s Album housed at the Storrs House Museum in Longmeadow, MA.


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