The Taft Letter

The Millbury Historical Society recently received a
valuable donation from the granddaughters of Rev. Robert
Dunbar, pastor of the Millbury Federated Church during
the years 1909-1915. That was during the time when
President William Howard Taft attended church services
there with his aunt, Delia Torrey.

The sisters, Pam Roberts and Kathy Larkin, brought the
letter to Millbury. It had been found in their attic in Maine.

Thanks to historical super-sleuth Jerilyn Stead, Board
member of the Millbury Historical Society, the two sisters
visited their grandfather's church, The Millbury Federated.
Back when President Taft attended the church with his
aunt Delia Torrey, it was called the Millbury Second
Congregational Church.

Inside the entrance to the church the sisters saw a photo
of President Taft leaving the church.  As they looked
closely, they noticed that their grandfather was standing
behind the president in the photo!

The donation of this letter, written to Rev. Dunbar from
President Taft, is a wonderful addition to the Millbury
Historical Society’s Taft collection. Rev. Dunbar had
written "words of encouragement" to President Taft as
this was a time in America's history when former President
Theodore Roosevelt decided to criticize President Taft's

Rev. Dunbar obviously knew how difficult it was for
President Taft to accept the fact that his former friend had
turned against him.

After Roosevelt returned from Europe and Africa,
President Taft invited him to the White House. Roosevelt
"declined Taft's invitation" and began giving speeches
outlining "his" own idea of the new role that the
government should play in dealing with social issues. His
progressivism led him to run against Taft in the 1912
Presidential Election. Both men were defeated as the vote
was split, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election.


Recently, your Society presented the First Annual Grace M. Laflash
Memorial Scholarship to Julia Crosby at Assumption School in Millbury.  
Julia was the top history student in the eighth grade graduating class.

Grace was a Charter Member of the Historical Society and its
Secretary for nearly forty years.  She was the unquestioned expert on
Millbury History.  

Grace taught fifth-grade at Assumption for over twenty-five years, and
she instituted a Millbury History Class into the curriculum.  Hundreds and
hundreds of students learned about this Town from Grace.  Her classes
often put on plays and skits about events from Millbury’s early history
and took part in every Town historical celebration.

When the bridge spanning the Blackstone River and the railroad tracks
needed replacing in 1983, Grace’s class researched the history and
found that the accepted name of “McGowan Bridge” was incorrect.  
Instead, it was originally named the “Gowing Bridge” in honor of a
prominent businessman in Town.  At the grand opening ceremony,
Grace and her students were given the honor of cutting the ribbon for
the new “Gowing Bridge.”

Grace passed away in 2015, and her family asked that donations be
made in her name to the Millbury Historical Society.  The Board of
Trustees of the Society voted to use the funds to establish a
scholarship in her name at Assumption School and President Frank
Gagliardi made the presentation at Awards Night in the Church.
Gateway to the Blackstone Valley
The Millbury Historical Society
Incorporated 1972
Millbury, Massachusetts

Preserving Millbury's Past for its Future
Our Mission

"As a bridge from the past to the future, the Millbury
Historical Society is committed to preserve, protect,
present and promote the history of Millbury."
P.O. Box 367
Millbury, MA
Rev. Robert Dunbar, Pastor of The
Second Congregational Church of
Millbury (now Federated).

Pam Roberts (left) and her sister Kathy Larkin hold
their grandfather's letter from President Taft. Behind
them is Millbury Historical Society Board Member
Jerilyn Stead.
President Taft and Aunt Delia on their
way to the Second Congregational
Church of Millbury (now Federated).
Just about everyone in Millbury is familiar with the mural in our post office. It was painted in 1940 by Joe Lasker,
and he returned to refurbish it in 1998. Joe recently passed away, and here is his obituary recently published in
the NY Times:

Joe Lasker was the last living member of the 48 prominent realists - including Edward Hopper, John Sloan and
Raphael Soyer--who wrote for Reality, the mid-Fifties polemical journal that argued against non-representational
art. He died December 3, 2015 at age 96 of congestive heart failure in Norwalk, CT.
"I feel that much of American art of the last 60 years has something missing, namely narrative," Lasker said in
an interview. "Without narrative there would be little left of the art of the Old Masters, of 20th-century
expressionism and surrealism. There would be no Guernica by Picasso."
The New York Times art critic Howard DeVree wrote of Lasker, "There is a psychological warmth and
penetration in the work...especially stimulating canvasses...marvelously effective...a tour de force."
His oil paintings and other depictions of cityscapes, landscapes, portraits, fantasies, interiors and still lifes hang
in the permanent collections of the Whitney, Smithsonian, Hirshhorn, Philadelphia, Tel Aviv and other museums.
He illustrated and/or wrote children's books, including American Library Association Notable Books Merry Ever
After (1976) and The Boy Who Loved Music (1979) for Viking Press.
His prizes include Prix de Rome and Guggenheim Fellowships and awards from the American Academy of Arts
and Letters, and the National Academy of Design, where he was National Academician and secretary.
He is represented by Toronto's Liss Gallery (and formerly, for 60 years, New York's Kraushaar Galleries).
Joseph Leon Lasker was born in New York in 1919 to Romanian immigrants. In high school, he entered the
painting competition of the Treasury Department's Fine Art Section and won commissions for still-extant murals
in the Calumet, MI, and Millbury, MA, post offices.
At night, he studied at, and graduated from, Cooper Union art school. In WWII he served in the 1147th Engineer
Combat Group.
He is survived by Mildred (Jaspen), his wife of 67 years; children David, Laura and Evan, grandchildren Ryan
Looney and Rebecca Looney-Tulin, and great-grandchildren Ty and Jake Looney. A celebration of his life will be
held in Norwalk on Saturday, January 2.

              Joe Lasker's Subject Matter for Our Post Office

If Indians sometimes faded into the past, at other times they were violently overcome. An Indian-related subject
that proved popular with audiences and unpopular with the Section of Fine Arts was conflict. The Section
repeatedly expressed reservations about depicting Indian-White conflicts and stated that the Department of the
Interior objected to these and other representations of “general unfriendly relations”. Edward Rowan was even
more direct in a letter to artist Louis Bouche, stating categorically that “massacres are out” and claiming that
the Section had no interest “in taking part in continuing or abetting any racial prejudices” (Melosh 1991, 41).

Administrators objected to conflict scenes in murals as part of a broad anti-war policy, and the Section
suggested that “warfare, even historical warfare between Indians and whites, was undesirable as a subject in
view of the armed conflict in Europe.” (Park and Markowitz 1984, 37)

Despite these objections, artists and communities argued for them in several cases, feeling that the episodes
were important and exciting pieces of local history. In fact, Barbara Melosh argues that the erasure of violent
conflicts resulted in a revisionist history of the frontier and contributed purposefully to a government-intended
image of a domesticated frontier, a common motif in Section art (1991, 42).

For his mural “An Incident in King Philip’s War, 1670 in Millbury, Massachusetts” (Fig. 7), artist Joe Lasker
preemptively assured Rowan that he had no plans for a “bloody, unsightly picture” but that he intended to treat
his chosen subject “in a decorative muralesque manner” (1940).

Joe Lasker, born in Brooklyn in 1919, attended Cooper Union Art School and graduated in 1939. He was drafted
into the Army in 1942 and served just over three years. After his military service he returned to painting,
supported by the G.I. Bill and painting prizes such as the Edwin Austin Abbey Mural Painting Scholarship (Park
and Markowitz n.d.).

He first submitted mural designs for the Social Security Building and St. Louis post office mural competitions,
but only received honorable mentions. On the strength of these submissions, he was offered the commission
for the mural in the Millbury, Massachusetts post office for the amount of $800 (Section of Fine Arts 1942, 23).   

I     n order to come up with appropriate subject matter for the mural, Lasker conducted research in the New
York Public Library and chose a scene from the 1675-6 King Philip’s War in Massachusetts because it was
dramatic and offered numerous pictorial possibilities. As expressed in a letter to scholars Marlene Park and
Gerald Markowitz, he “just couldn’t get excited about onion farming for Millbury” (Lasker 1979).
King Philip was the English name for Metacomet, the son of Massasoit and brother of Wamsutta, who became
Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag after Wamsutta’s death in 1662. Originally, the Wampanoag and the English
Colonists coexisted in uneasy peace. However, increasing colonial expansion led to escalating tensions. In 1675
the situation boiled over upon the murder of the Christianized or “Praying” Indian John Sassamon, a translator
and advisor to Metacomet.

After he reportedly informed Plymouth Colony officials that Metacomet was arranging Indian attacks on colonial
settlements, he was allegedly murdered by three Wampanoag. The three were arrested and hanged. In
retaliation, a band of Pokanoket attacked several homesteads in Plymouth Colony on June 20, 1675. The war
spread quickly and eventually the Nipmuc, Podunc, Narragansett and Nashaway were all involved, fighting the
New England Confederation and their allies, the Mohegan and Pequot.

By the spring of 1676, after many victories on both sides, the conflict became a war of attrition. Metacomet was
shot and killed in August, 1676, leading to the surrender of the Indian forces. He was beheaded, and his head
was displayed on spike in Plymouth for over 20 years (Ranlet 1988).
For his mural design, Joe Lasker chose a particular incident that happened in the vicinity of Millbury: 12
In 1675, at the start of King Phillip’s (the Indian Sachem) war against the early settlers, a band of mounted
English Colonists under the command of Captains Hutchins and Wheeler, were ambushed and attacked by about
two hundred Nipmuc Indians, the aboriginal inhabitants of what is now Worcester County and surrounding
vicinity. As a result, eight of the white soldiers were killed. This clash took place in the neighborhood of where
Millbury now stands.” (Lasker 1940)

Lasker refers Rowan to the historical volumes he referenced for this material, including one containing the
personal report of the Captains Hutchins and Wheeler. Rowan expressed his approval and his relief that Lasker
intended to portray the scene tastefully, and urged him to consult local authorities on Indian attire (1940).

In his response, Lasker notes that the Millbury Postmaster had not been able to offer any advice or refer him to
anyone in town qualified to provide input on the mural and its subjects, costumes and other details. However, he
assures Rowan that the mural “will be accurate in its technical aspects, more so than the color sketch” (1941).

While his commitment to textual research for historical accuracy is commendable, Joe Lasker never actually
visited Millbury until he installed the mural in 1941. Instead, he painted it on canvas in his Manhattan studio,
rolled it up and shipped it to Millbury. He then made his first visit to the town and installed the mural in one day
with the assistance of the post office janitor. Additionally, no explanation is given for the mural’s titular
reference to an incident in 1670 when the war did not start until 1675, a fact clearly known by the artist and
referenced in his December 1940 letter to Edward Rowan.

The resulting mural shows five Indians in battle with three colonists, and a fourth is implied by a riderless horse.
Lasker used vivid colors of yellow in clothing, blue in a colonist’s flowing cape, and red in saddle blankets,
Indians’ roach hairpieces, and what appears to be blood on the ground under a fallen Indian. The colors are
striking and the energy of the mural is frenetic, with horses and people moving in all directions.
In fact, Lasker consulted the New York libraries and researched as many examples as he could find of battles on
horseback by artists including Leonardo, Rubens, Delacroix, and the Napoleonic painters (Park and Markowitz n.
d.). He discovered that all these paintings had a “formula” to their composition, and he used that same formula
to compose the Millbury mural. An added signature on the mural notes that it was restored, at least partially, in

Mark Twain (performer Richard Clark) was
the featured guest at our annual meeting!

Richard Clark, an actor with over thirty years of
experience in New England regional theater, New York
Theater and television presented a compendium of
Mark Twain's life & works.
The audience laughed along with him at the foibles,
follies and fantasies of a bygone era and granted
Richard a standing ovation for his efforts!
Our  Museum will be
open Thursday, August
25th from 9-11 AM in
the Asa Waters'

There are military artifacts,
sports displays,
yearbooks, and bins of
photos and Millbury
nostalgia to peruse!
There is a new Exhibit: “The
Amasa Wood Family:
Forgotten Leaders of

Plan on coming in!

The rest of the year's
Museum Schedule may
be seen on
Photos Courtesy of Chief Richard Hamilton