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Postcards, photographs inspire Comeau’s new Canton history
By Kate Sullivan Foley   - 11/25/2009

Wicked Local

More Info on This Book: Canton

Where in the world is Matt Lauer?

In the 1980s, he was living with his first wife, Nancy, in an historic home in a secluded area off of Route 138 in Canton.

That fact is just one of many that Canton historian George T. Comeau uncovered while researching his first book, “Canton, Postcard History Series.”

It was both by chance and by plan that Comeau came to publish the 127-page photo journey through Canton’s history.

The long-time idea to write a book was sparked into motion for Comeau following an encounter on the commuter rail.

An avid Canton historian, Comeau had been working on a number of different book ideas when he sat down on the train beside another local historian, David Allen Lambert.

Lambert, who lives in Stoughton, created a postcard history of his town, which was released earlier this year by Arcadia Publishing.

With a collection of Canton postcards of his own, Comeau, a member of the Canton Historical Commission for the past 27 years, decided he could create an historical tribute for his town, too.

“That same day, I called Arcadia and pitched the idea,” Comeau said.

When the publisher expressed interest, Comeau put together a short version of what he had in mind for the book. The publisher liked the outline and gave Comeau the go-ahead in January.

After a little work with his collection, Comeau realized he needed more images. His first phone call was to a neighbor, Peter Sarra. The long-time Canton resident had a substantial number of postcards and welcomed Comeau to view his collection.

Comeau said the bulk of the postcards used for the book came from Sarra’s collection. Others came from another Canton resident, Charlie Crespi.

“I had access to some of the most incredible and some of the most rare postcards that tell us the history of Canton,” Comeau said.

Even with his vast knowledge of Canton, the 43 year old was surprised to learn that more than 300 postcards of images in and around Canton from the late 1800s through 1960 are in existence. Many locales, like the viaduct and Blue Hills, were used on multiple postcards over the years.

The time period from 1885-1925 is considered “the golden age of postcards,” according to Comeau. During the time, the federal government dropped the postage rate on postcards, which encourage their use.

“They became very accessible as a medium to communicate cheaply,” Comeau said.

In addition to postcards, Comeau used a number of photo images he uncovered from negatives in boxes in the basement of the Canton Historical Society.

The glass plate negatives from the Kanton Kamera Klub proved to be a significant and exciting discovery for Comeau.

The amateur photography group took the images during the years 1880-1915.

Comeau scanned the very fragile negatives in high resolution and was able to depict amazing details. In several cases, he was able to date photos based on minute information he could read in high resolution.

Many of the postcards and images provided very little identifiable information, which ultimately led Comeau on a research journey. He was intrigued that each postcard or image had a story and he became the detective.

Using the Canton Public Library, Canton Historical Society, the Internet and old-fashioned beat-style reporting (i.e. phone calls), Comeau gathered his facts and wrote the 18,000 words that accompany the book’s 200 plus images.

“I think of myself as knowing a lot about Canton, but through every step of this process, I learned more,” Comeau said.

Spending nearly a year studying different landmarks brought him much closer to the town and if possible, even more passionate about Canton’s history. He hopes the book, which will be released Nov. 23, will do the same for readers.

Comeau believes that when people are passionate about their local history, they will be more likely to want to fight to preserve it.

“It is really hard to destroy things that you care about,” Comeau said.

Associate Chief Communications Officer at Suffolk University, Comeau is the Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and has served as an appointee of the Governor of Massachusetts since 2004. He is also active as a member of the Canton Historical Society and a Trustee of the Canton Public Library. He founded the Friends of the Little Red House, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the David Tilden House built in 1725.

Comeau will hold a book signing at the Canton Historical Society, 1400 Washington Street, Sunday, Dec. 6, from 2 – 5 p.m. Proceeds from sales of the book at the signing will be donated to the Canton Historical Society and to Friends of the Canton Public Library. “Canton” by George T. Comeau, is also available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.

Buy It Now: Canton $21.99

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