Monthly Archives: January 2015

We all scream for…Ice?

When it comes to luxury goods, connoisseurs demand the best-of-the-best.  For the best watch, you buy a Rolex.  The best jewelry? Tiffany’s, Cartier, or Harry Winston. And for the best ice you go to…Wenham?

From circus queens to marketing mavens, deer informants, and the shady history of seafood, we consider ourselves fairly well-versed in the strange history of the North of Boston region.  But even this fun fact had us surprised.  Apparently, in the 19th century, Wenham Lake was the premier place to go for ice.

Mind you, these were the days before refrigeration.  One did not simply “make” ice as we do today – ice had to be “harvested” from, well, frozen water supplies.  Wenham Ice was the first transatlantic ice shipment to arrive in England, thanks to New England’s “Ice King,” Frederic Tudor.  According to one source, when the ice arrived in 1844, the customs crew was so perplexed by the shipment, that the ice completely melted while the crew stood around, most likely scratching their heads and wondering why the heck anyone would import ice.  By most other accounts, only around 75% of the ice was lost in shipment.


We find the similarities quite astounding (Photos: |

Whatever the true story, Wenham Ice was a hit in the UK.  It was considered to be the “purest” as it was crystal clear – a feature taken full marketing advantage of when a block of it was placed in a window display with a newspaper behind it to show that the ice was so pure you could read through it (which a [very bored] group of people did).  Sir Charles Lyell, a noted geologist, upheld this claim of purity when he visited the lake and wrote in 1849 that “The water [of Wenham Lake] is always clear and pure,” he wrote, “and the bottom covered with white quartz-zose sand. It is fed by springs, and receives no mud from any spring flowing into it…”


Pictured: Subpar ice you can’t read through (

And thus, due to its superior quality, Wenham Lake Ice was established as a luxury good.  In 1845, it was written in Wilmer and Smith’s European Times that “the Wenham Lake Ice [is] coming into vogue as a luxury among the aristocracy…”   It was even said that Wenham ice was the favorite ice of Queen Victoria herself.  In fact, Wenham Lake’s ice was so luxurious that in Norway, the name of Lake Oppegard was changed to “Lake Wenham” to cash in on the Wenham ice’s reputation (this was also the first, and we assume last, case of knock-off ice).  To take advantage of its status, the Wenham Lake Ice Company also:

“sold “American Refrigerators or miniature ice-houses” so that the ice might be better preserved by the purchasers. These refrigerators, so ran the advertisement in the Times, “by the aid of a half cwt. of ice weekly, furnishes a provision safe, under the same lock, and at the same temperature, as a wine cooler, where provisions may be preserved for a long time, and wine kept always ready for use, as, undergoing no change of temperature, it may be left for weeks in the refrigerator, without the slightest deterioration.”” (Source)


A futuristic concept for Victorians and the death of the lake ice trade. (

So, what happened?  Why isn’t Wenham known as the booming ice capital of the world?  In 1873, a large fire burned down the ice houses of the Wenham Lake Ice Company.  The total loss estimated around $100,000 and the company wasn’t quite able to recover.  A second blow came with the advent of refrigeration in the late 1800’s, which made the entire ice-harvesting industry seem antiquated, time-consuming, and generally unnecessary (although a few people held on to the belief that lake ice lasted longer).  There was still some ice harvesting from Wenham Lake into the 20th century, but that died out around the 1940s.  And so came the end of the great ice empire of Wenham.

Life in the Victorian Kitchen… (by Karen Foy)
QI: Quite Interesting – Ice
Crystal Blocks of Yankee Coldness
Commercial use of ice – Fresh Pond
Historical Collections of the Essex Institute

The Show that Goes Like This

Village Theatre Spamalot Promo

Photo by ABB Photography

What do you get when you mix “Monty Python,” King Arthur, terrific music, and a tight-knit theater family? The Village Theatre Company’s side-splitting production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” (a 14-time Tony-nominated musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”).  We were recently saw a sneak preview of this new production and, without giving (many) spoilers, this may just be Village Theatre’s best production yet!

Featuring hilariously catchy songs such as “I’m Not Dead Yet,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” and the show-stopping “Find Your Grail,” “Spamalot” tells the story of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail. And by “tells the story,” we mean “hilariously parodies the story of…in the silly, irreverent way that only Monty Python can.).

Musical Python humor aside, what makes “Spamalot” such a fun show is the environment of the Village Theatre’s home, the Laurel Grange in West Newbury, MA.  The intimate theater puts the audience close to the show; it’s almost as if the audience becomes part of the show and “in” on the joke (rather than being a distant observer separated by the invisible 4th wall).  The show is fun, the cast is having fun, so the audience has a lot of fun as well.

Part of what sets the Village Theatre Company apart is the fun that the cast has.  It’s infectious and is obvious the cast loves performing, loves show they’re putting on, and, most importantly, loves being together.  During the preview, we were treated to asides from the cast in between scenes – information on the Village Theatre, some background information on the show, and personal anecdotes.  The one theme that wove all of these asides together was “family.”  Everyone involved in the Village Theatre – from the board of directors to the actors, director, and light tech – is tied together by this familial bond.  Every show is put on by a group of people who genuinely enjoy working, playing, being together and, during each performance, the audience is invited into this crazy, fun, talented family. And who doesn’t want to be a part of a British-accented family of killer rabbits, knights who say “Ni,” and coconut horses?


Photo by ABB Photography


Photo by ABB Photography

“Spamalot” runs January 23-25, January 30-February 1 at the Laurel Grange (21 Garden Street, West Newbury).  Be ready for an evening of belly laughs, giggles, and general merriment – this is one show you do not want to miss! For more information on the show, please visit

Photos courtesy of Amy Brogna Baione, ABB Photography –

Starting off a fun New Year

January can be a difficult month.  After the fun and excitement of Halloween, Thanksgiving, December’s madcap holiday season, and the New Year, January, with its bitter cold and snow flurries, can feel like a letdown.  Fortunately, the North of Boston region offers lots of great events to help you beat the January doldrums.  Instead of huddling around the space heater and counting down the days until spring, why not enjoy…

Gould 4In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould
On view through March 29 at the Peabody Essex Museum

Once an obscure figure in American furniture history, Nathaniel Gould is now recognized as Salem’s premier 18th-century cabinetmaker. New scholarship, based on the recent discovery of his detailed account ledgers and daybooks, has led to the identification and re-attribution of many pieces of furniture, including monumental desks and bookcases, bombé chests and scalloped top tea tables carved from the finest imported mahogany. In Plain Sight presents 20 exemplary works of Gould’s furniture alongside paintings, archival materials, decorative arts and digital media elements that provide insight into the makers and consumers of 18th-century American design and culture.

(Photo: Chest of Drawers, 1858-66, attributed to Nathaniel Gould. Marblehead Historical Society and Museum. Photographed in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion (ca. 1766-68), 170 Washington Street, Marblehead. © 2014 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Dennis Helmar Photography)

EventPhotoFull_compass roseWinter Brunch Cooking Class
Saturday, January 17th, 5:30pm, at the Compass Rose Inn

Join us n the kitchen of the Compass Rose for a wonderful evening of fine food and fun. These intimate 2 1/2 to 3 hour classes include a hands-on cooking experience while learning creative recipes, professional tips, cooking techniques, and methods. The class begins at 5:30 pm and ends in an evening of laughing and enjoying a wonderful meal that’s been prepared by all, in the warmth of the Compass Rose dining room.

10_200742373_LGLight/Dark, White/Black
On view January 17-July 31 at the Addison Gallery of American Art

Beyond their effectiveness in depicting three-dimensionality and conveying light and shade to construct the illusion of space, black and white have long fascinated artists, as they are rich with symbolism, metaphor, and association. Comprised of challenging juxtapositions, harmonious ensembles, and unexpected pairings, this exhibition explores how artists use different formal elements and mediums to exploit the associative character of black and white and visually render conceptual themes.

(Photo: Carroll Dunham, Shadow in a Corner III, 2004, stainless steel, water-jet cut, painted black urethane, gift of the artist [PA 1967], 2007.42.37.3, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA)

productimage-picture-cooking-demo-modern-southern-food-95_jpg_280x280_q85Cooking Demo – Modern Southern Food
January 21, 6-9pm, The Essex Room at Woodman’s of Essex

A great gift idea for the cook in your family, for that person who has everything, or for a fun Girls’ Night Out! Enjoy a delicious Modern Southern Food cooking demonstration by the Essex Room’s award-winning Chef, Ned Grieg, followed by a tasting.

b5a797bc946a1e8927750ad5b4d2b57a_l5i4_6kxuVillage Theatre Company presents Monty Python’s Spamalot
January 23-February 1

Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, SPAMALOT retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and features a bevy of beautiful show girls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits, and French people. Did we mention the bevy of beautiful show girls?  The 2005 Broadway production won three Tony Awards, including “Best Musical,” and received 14 Tony Award nominations.

The Phillips HousePhillips Favorites: Winter Wonderland Walking Tour
Saturday, January 24, 2-3pm, at the Phillips House

Chestnut Street is even more beautiful with a coat of snow. Bundle up and join us for an architectural walking tour, ending at the Phillips House with a cup of cocoa.  Registration is required. Special pricing for tickets for the entire series is available. Please call 978-744-0440 for more information.

IMG_2670Ward Reservation Winter Fun Day
Sunday, January 25th, 12-3pm

Winter is a delightful season to experience Ward Reservation.
Enjoy an afternoon of winter fun complete with guided hikes, hot chocolate &
refreshments and a toasty warming fire! Cross-country skiing – Snowshoeing – Sledding, all day! (Please bring your own snowshoes, skis, and sleds). There will also be guided adventures through the reservation starting at 12:30. Hope to see you all there!


CapeAnnWinterBirdingWeekend2015B_737525511Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend
January 30-February 1

Birdwatchers from New England and beyond flock to Cape Ann to participate in the Cape Ann Winter Birding Weekend every year. Cape Ann is known worldwide for its exciting concentrations of winter seabirds, and the Cape AnnChamber of Commerce, working with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, plans a weekend full of events for all levels of birders. Expert speakers offer presentations, exhibitors showcase their programs and products, and artists display their art and give demonstrations at the event headquarters at the Elks at Bass Rocks and at other venues in Gloucester.

For more great events in January (and throughout the year!), check out our calendar of events.