Mike Dixon’s Lectures Available from the Delaware Humanities Forum

The Delaware Humanities Speakers program sends scholars, authors, and experts to community groups, organizations, businesses and schools around the state. They provide a broad array of thought-provoking presentations that make culture and Delaware history and community available and accessible to all audiences. Speakers programs make it possible for your organization to access the cultural heritage and diverse history of Delaware, and help us all deepen our understanding of who we are, where we come from, and the many connections that unite us.

Here is a link to the lectures I do for the Delaware Humanities Forum

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Saving an Old Home Movie: Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s Funeral Train

Late in the afternoon of June 8, 1968, the long-delayed funeral train carrying the body of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to Washington passed through Elkton. It was around 6 p.m. and the train was about 4-hours late. Larry Beers, a teenager, took his 8-mm home movie camera and captured the scene that hot June afternoon so long ago. Recently the footage, which had been unseen for nearly 50 years, was retrieved and Professor Rein Jelle Terpestra digitized the film. Here is Larry’s 3-minute film with some introductory comments and a few additional photos


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11,000 Likes on Delmarva History

Thank You for Following Delmarva History on Facebook, as we Pass a New Milestone 9,000 Likes.

We want to say thanks to everyone for stopping by to spend a little time on the Delmarva History space on Facebook as we hit a new milestone, 11,000 likes.  Your visits to the page and your participation in the social conversations taking place here makes our effort worthwhile.

We also value the larger, open dialogue about yesteryear that takes place on a number of other valuable Facebook pages. Our region has a large, virtual community of formal and informal groups and individuals contributing narratives and images about the past. And while we enjoy contributing a little content to this daily conversation, the full array of social channels allows us to learn lots more from the work of others.

This daily hum of conversations involving the posting of an enormous amount of heritage-related content encourages collaboration and sharing.  On these public spaces, we are all able to share and comment on each other’s work, thus more broadly enhancing the study and appreciation of the past.

We learned a lot as we created this site by watching experienced social media pros (early adopters) from the area before we launched our FB page on Aug. 29, 2014. Eventually jumping into the mix on what was a new platform for us, we were delighted to join a fine group of colleagues who enjoy the heritage of this great region, creating a daily hum of conversation.

This contact with a vast array of informative material is enhanced by freely sharing resources, collectively producing via this larger platform what has become a public history commons, a place to learn, share and talk about the past.

Thank you for liking Delmarva History, as it makes our effort worthwhile. And thank you to every contributor and page administrator who works to make the past more accessible through various channels on Delmarva as the technology allows us to easily deliver content.

Delmarva History

Thank you for 11,000 likes on Delmarva History on FB.

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Sassafras River History: A Community Discussion Hosted by the Sassafras River Association

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Kitty Knight House in Georgetown on the Sassafras River

The Sassafras River Association invites you to participate in a program that examines the history of the scenic tributary that rises in the marshy areas along the Delaware line and flows some 20 miles to the Chesapeake Bay.  Historian Mike Dixon will share narratives from the colonial era to the 20th century, while facilitating a dialogue with area residents for an engaging community conversation.

The Sassafras watershed’s past is captivating and encompasses the sweep of time.  This expansive narrative begins with Native-Americans and the arrival of Europeans who established fine plantations on its shores, many of which still overlook the rich fields being farmed today as part of Kent and Cecil Counties’ thriving, and important, agricultural economy. The tranquility of the river was interrupted during the War of 1812, British guns firing, but Kitty Knight stood her ground.  The colonial era port of entry grew, becoming important stops for vessels hauling freight and transporting travelers in the 19th century.  In time, sprawling summer resorts brought visitors by steamboat and later by automobile, and in the 20th century the Adams Floating Theatre arrived, bringing lively plays to Fredericktown and Georgetown.  Of course, the days of the steamboat gave way to the 20th century and the automobile age, which brought new dynamics that shaped the region. We will explore these accounts and more.

This type of colloquy creates greater understanding of our ties to the land and water and each other as we consider the intersection of the past with the present and the future, with stakeholders contributing accounts that have been handed down over the generations in families and communities.

It is sure to be an informative session, as participants will be encouraged to recount first and second hand stories about the river and the historical experience in the watershed that serves as the boundary between Kent and Cecil counties, providing unique personal and local context. There are stories you will want to hear as Dixon shares accounts from the European era to modern times, while moderating an evening of shared conversation. Of course, you don’t have to have a story to share.  You may simply want to listen to some of the lesser-known stories and traditions in the watershed.

The Sassafras River Association is an on-going community effort to protect and restore water quality in the river’s tidal basin and tributaries. This event is a celebration of the people who live, work, and play in the watershed, and a chance to deepen our sense of community and learn from each other as we strive to make our lives more compatible with nature’s design yet remain economically viable.

Dixon, a historian, specializes in community studies and social history.  He teaches as an adjunct professor of history at a number of area universities and colleges and has appeared on the Today Show, Maryland Public Television and TV news programs as well as in National Geographic, Southern Living, and Chesapeake Life. His published works have appeared in Chesapeake Life, Delmarva Quarterly, Maryland Life, and a number of other magazines, newspapers, and historical society journals.

History of the Sassafras will be held at The Granary Restaurant starting at 7 pm. Coffee and dessert will be available. Free and open to the public, the event is a fundraiser for the Sassafras River Association and donations are kindly suggested at the door or online at www.sassafrasriver.org/donatenow/.

For guests who would like to dine beforehand, The Granary has generously offered to donate 20% of dinner sales – a coupon is required and reservations are strongly suggested. Contact the Sassafras River Association for GIVE 20 coupons at 410-275-1400 or lwood@sassafrasriver.org.

The Granary Restaurant http://granary.biz is located at 100 George Street, Georgetown, MD, along the beautiful Sassafras River.

Nov. 3, 2016, 7 p.m.

The Granary Restaurant


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The Delmarva History Conversation Continues on Facebook

Since we published our first blog post on April 13, 2007, we have kept up with evolving social media platforms, maintaining multiple channels of communications.  As the digital publishing transformation continued, some outlets became more media rich, interactive, and extremely simple to use.   Thus over time we found that we were publishing most of our original content on our Delmarva History’s Facebook page, an open group, which allows anyone to read posts and comments.

There are many reasons for this.  The interactivity of a large networked community interested in the Peninsula’s past, generates an enormous array of material.  This transition allows us to be part of the larger conversation that is taking place daily as publishers share the region’s narratives.  With many contributors on lots of focused pages adding knowledge and insights, we are able to easily curate and share with the larger community, adding our own voice to this crowd.  This enriches the experience as heritage content reaches a larger audience and is often crowdsourced to help with understanding and interpretation.  . 

The Facebook platform allows for more convenient sharing of digital media since photos and videos are an important aspect these days.  And, Facebook has provided an environment for more long form writing on a section it calls notes.  This is an enhanced modern, blog feature, which allows for full-length posts with attractive formatting, tagging, and pictures. 

Thus the Delmarva history conversation continues on Facebook.  Be sure to check it out.  You don’t have to be a Facebook member to access the open page.  The back material already on the weblog will be 2016-08-08_0-03-29

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Adventures in Research Program at Greenwood Library Spotlights the Greenwood Train Disaster of 1903

2015-06-27_13-12-41Press Release, Greenwood Public Library

On Monday, November 16, at 6:30pm, the Greenwood Library will be hosting a program, Adventures in Research, which will consider the Greenwood Train Disaster of 1903.  This Sussex County tragedy occurred over a hundred years ago, in the midst of a blinding snowstorm on December 2, 1903, when two trains collided in the center of Greenwood.  One train, pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha, exploded with the blast and fire severely damaging the community.

Social historian Mike Dixon will be presenting this program, which will be equally enjoyable for those interested in learning about the accident or becoming acquainted with the process for exploring the past.  The subject will be approached in various ways, covering methods for going about researching the past in the community, presenting a broad narrative about the wreck, and facilitating an audience-centered discussion to help frame the historic context.  During the audience participation time, those in attendance are invited to share stories and insights about the train disaster passed down through the generations in Greenwood by families in the area.  Mr. Dixon will also give direction on how to do research on subjects that are of interest to many, such as the history of an old house.  In the end, this engaging event will explain how historical puzzles are pieced together as we learn about the process for understanding earlier times and historical mysteries.

Mr. Dixon is an adjunct history professor at Wilmington University and has been involved in investigating a number of major disasters from an historical perspective, as well as developing commemorative programs for those tragedies.

The program is sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum and is free and open to all.  Children under twelve should be accompanied by an adult.  Registration is helpful but not required.  To register, please come by the library, call 349-5309, or visit the library website at www.greenwood.lib.de.us.

The Greenwood Library is located at 100 Mill St., just east of the railroad tracks in Greenwood.

Greenwood Library program on Greenwood Disaster sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum

Greenwood Library program on Greenwood Disaster sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum

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Family Genealogists Help Document Story of Brakeman Edwin Roach Killed in Railroad Explosion

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

Edwin and Martha Roach. source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Roach, III, family historians

I have been investigating a deadly Delaware tragedy, an explosion that occurred over one hundred years ago in Greenwood. In the midst of a blinding snowstorm two trains collided in the center of the town of 367 people, and one pulling a lethal cargo of dynamite and naphtha exploded.

While opening up the doors to the past, I’ve spent several days in the Sussex County community searching for clues at an array of places. Fieldwork took me to the town hall, public library, cemeteries, the local nursing home, and elsewhere. There has also been manuscript research at the Delaware Public Archives, which was coupled with digital data.

One added perspective to aid in piecing this puzzle together involved finding the tradition-bearers, the community and family members who carry the stories down through time. These priceless links to the past (whether firsthand accounts or family stories), help present events in a different context.

This information arrived via an unexpected email from Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III, family genealogists.  These recorders of family history have been doing their own inquiry, digging up those traces of earlier times. Their extensive work included death certificates, newspapers, probate records, family lore, and other typical sources for genealogy, including personal photos.

The railroad man killed in the accident, Edwin Roach, was their great-grandfather, the son of Daniel & Eliza “Sally” Jones Roach. This was a great personal tragedy “which resounded through the lives of his parents, widow, children and grandchildren. He was a purposeful man of promise, owning various properties in Sussex Co. His death at such a young age would, as it were, dampen the future of his children, forever changing the course of their lives,” Jane wrote earlier this week.

Edwin (1874 – 1903) was born and raised in Georgetown. He resided in Wilmington with his wife Martha “Mattie” Jones Roach (1872 – 1964), and their children at the time of his death. Mattie was not related to either of the two Delaware Jones family lines, as she was born in Ambler, PA. She never remarried and Edwin is buried at Union Cemetery in Georgetown.

Edwin’s name is given as Edward in newspaper accounts and that was picked up by wire services, spreading that information far and wide.  The State of Delaware’s Certificate of Death notes that Edwin Roach, 30 of Wilmington, Delaware, a railroad brakeman, died from an explosion on a train on Dec. 4, 1903. The certificate was issued by Pepper & Mc Glorhean, Undertaker of Georgetown, DE. The headstone at the cemetery marks his death as taking place on the 2nd. “We believe his death was instantaneous and the confusing surrounding the accident may have led to this death certificate error” she observes.

“It would be lovely to set the record straight on his name these so many years later,” Jane concluded. First, thanks Jane and Harry for generously sharing your research, including photos.

Hopefully this blog post helps with that, too.   The Greenwood tragedy clearly illustrates the need for multiple perspectives as newspapers and the death certificate sometimes misstated information.

greenwood death certificate edwin roach

Delaware Death Certificate for Edwin Roach. Source: Jane Roach Butler and Harry Edwin Roach III

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