Thursday, June 11, 2009

Northampton history snippets: Graham Cracker genesis, well scrubbed vegan pioneer, local rock, lit legends, flaming hoops.

The Wikipediesque website Absolute Astronomy has a decent historical overview of Northampton including demographic/census info, a list of films shot here, and a surprising record of notable residents of the past (Jonathan Edwards, Calvin Coolidge) and present (Chris Collingwood, Sonic Youth, and even Megan LaBonte*)

I learned that vegan pioneer Sylvester Graham, namesake of the Graham Cracker, lived here as well. He was a "dietary reformer," and Grahamites, as his followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle. As such, they practiced frequent bathing, abstinence from alcohol, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Graham was also an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to insanity. He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were therefore a no-no. His dietary recommendations were inevitably bland, which led to the Grahamites consuming large quantities of Graham crackers, Graham's own invention. White bread was strongly condemned by Graham and his followers as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by nutritionists ever since. Some Grahamites lost faith when their mentor died at the age of fifty-seven. Other than the crackers, the Grahamites' major contribution to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing. Graham's doctrines found later followers in the persons of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg. Their invention of Kellogg's Corn Flakes was a logical extension of the Grahamite approach to nutrition. Graham's stance on Smores is unknown, as he was long gone by the time they were devised as a popular campfire snack utilizing chocolate and marshmallow. One can safely assume he is spinning in his crypt.

Grahamism was influential in the vegan movement. Sylvester Graham focused on meat and milk, which he believed to be the cause of sexual urges. In fact, he claimed animal byproducts produced lust; Grahamism thus rejected meat, animal byproducts, and alcohol in order to develop a purer mind and body. And as with everything lately, my life is laced with coincidence and blog posts tie themselves together with unexpected connections. Megan noted that she works at Sylvester's. In fact, Sylvester Graham may be the namesake of the restaurant. Does anyone know? I'm looking it up. OKAY. Too weird. It totally is. The restaurant is his old home. Read about it here.

*Megan LaBonte is one of the more current notable residents listed on Absolute Astronomy's Northampton page. She is described as a "local artist whose specialty includes works of art using mannequins, as well as elaborate costume work and face paint. In addition, Megan is a hooper who has mastered the art of fire hooping. She often hoops with local band, The Primate Fiasco. LaBonte is currently preparimg for the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade on Saturday, June 20th.

The "great awakening" was a period of increased religious activity, particularly in New England. A famous literary example of the new style of preaching can be found in Northampton preacher Jonathan Edwards' sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, most famously preached on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut.

1 comment:

Mary E.Carey said...

Fascinating stuff. I'm going to check out the Amherst entry at that site.