samuel williston 1860sEphemera: Things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time; items of collectable memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.  Recorded in English from the late 16th century as the plural of ephemeron, from Greek, neuter of ephēmeros ‘lasting only a day’. As a singular noun the word originally denoted a plant said by ancient writers to last only one day, or an insect with a short lifespan, and hence was applied (late 18th century) to a person or thing of short-lived interest. Current use has been influenced by plurals such as trivia and memorabilia.1

Samuel Williston is often presented as an ever- and over-serious, deeply religious, hard-driven New England entrepreneur.  Much of this is probably true —though Samuel apparently worked hard at creating his own legend.  (For a biographical essay, please read “The Button Speech.”)  Occasionally we see glimpses of someone a bit more . . . well, human.  His grandson, also named Samuel Williston, recalled “That he had softer feelings than might have been guessed from his manner, was indicated by his toleration of young children about the house, as well as by his habit of feeding daily with his own hands the family cat.”2

So Sam was a cat-lover.  But there was also at least one dog, a black Newfoundland named Major.  We still have the great man’s dog license.  Strictly speaking, Major belonged to the cotton mill.  And the town clerk had the temerity to charge Sam two bucks — about $30 in current terms — for the document.  One wonders how many Easthampton residents would have paid this.

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