February 20 - 1873: Luther Crowell of Wellfleet invents the brown paper bag

1828: Famed actor and Bourne resident Joe Jefferson born. 1960: We were tougher guys back then
Joe Jefferson between 1870 and 1880. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

1828: Today is Joe Jefferson's birthday

Famed actor was fishing buddy of President Cleveland when both summered here

On this day in 1828, Joe Jefferson, one of the great comic actors of the 19th century and a familiar figure to Cape Codders, was born in Philadelphia.

A close friend and fishing buddy of President Grover Cleveland, Jefferson is remembered for his definitive portrayal of Rip Van Winkle, a role he first played in 1865.

For several years Jefferson had acted in the Laura Keene theatrical company and more than 150 performances of "Our American Cousin" (though he was not on stage at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., in when John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln).

By the 1880s, Jefferson was spending summers at a manor house he called the Crow's Nest along the shores of Buttermilk Bay in Bourne, roughly a mile across Cohasset Narrows and Monument River from Cleveland's house at Gray Gables, the nation's first summer White House.

Jefferson and Cleveland spent many carefree hours hunting and fishing on the Upper Cape and were especially fond of Wakeby Pond in Mashpee.

The Crow's Nest burned down in 1893, the year of Cleveland starting the second of his two non-consecutive terms in the White House (only president to do so).

Jefferson rebuilt his house on a bluff near Electric Avenue facing south toward Buzzards Bay. The structure later became the Joseph Jefferson Inn and, in its final incarnation, The Inn at Buttermilk Bay.

The names of streets near where the Crow's Nest houses stood still resonate with Jefferson's memory - Crow's Nest Drive, Rip Van Winkle Way, Jefferson Shores - as does a neighborhood across Buttermilk Bay, Jefferson Shores.

Before his death in 1905, Jefferson appeared in several silent films and is considered a pioneer of early cinema.

According to local legend, Jefferson initially wanted to buy a house in Sandwich but the owner wouldn't sell to him. Jefferson proceeded to buy a burial plot in Sandwich, according to Donald G. Trayser's Cape Cod Historical Almanac, and said that "They wouldn't let me live here in Sandwich, but they can't prevent my burial here."

On the boulder over Jefferson's grave at Bay View Cemetery in Sandwich, a bronze tablet quotes from the closing lines of his autobiography -

And yet we are but tenants. Let us assure ourselves of this, and then it will not be so hard to make room for the next administration; for shortly the great Landlord will give us notice that our lease has expired.  

1873: Luther Childs Crowell granted patent for paper bags

Wellfleet man granted 293 patents, 5th most awarded in that era

On this day in 1873, Luther Childs Crowell was granted a patent for a machine to manufacture square-bottom paper bags.

Before we were all asked the question "paper or plastic", Luther's design was the only grocery carrying vessel available. In fact, the same design is still used to this day.

According to the website CapeCodHistory.us, Crowell, who lived in Wellfleet, was granted 293 patents in all. The website states: 

Luther C. Crowell, the inventor, spent many years of his life in South Wellfleet, and died there in 1903.

The Commissioner of Paterits in his 1900 report placed Mr. Crowell as fifth in rank among those who have secured over one hundred patents since 1872, the number being two hundred ninety-three. The principal of these had to do with the printing press, and was first used by the Boston Herald. 

So remember Luther the next time to use a paper bag.


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