Medford's mythical apple.
Historian of the town was he,It was a little over sixty years ago that a very readable and interesting story was written of two young men who walked twenty-four miles to attend a Harvard professor's scientific lectures. The younger was seventeen years old, and had a few years before been taught by a Mr. Hill of Medford. He lived in North Woburn, and may or may not have walked thither, but those were pre-automobile days in 1770. Of so much of the story there is no doubt; Parson Sewall, historian of Woburn, tells the same story. He, however, says nothing about the ‘contemplation’ by these young men of ‘tempting red cheeks, on loaded boughs,’ in Upper Medford or elsewhere. (Of course the red cheeks were those of apples.) Readable and interesting stories are, as Mr. Trowbridge told the writer (relative to ‘Tinkham Brothers' Tide Mill’), ‘mainly fiction,’ woven around some historic fact or incident that comes to public attention. The Baldwin apple had come into prominence some fifty years before this entertaining story, claiming Medford as its origination, was written. Governor Brooks had known Colonel Baldwin, and, himself in advanced years, tells his young kinsman Charles about the origin of the Baldwin apple, formerly called the Woodpecker, or, for short, the 'Pecker, and that the tree was on the Samuel Thompson farm. And at his request, in 1813, this spry young man of eighteen years visits the tree, i.e., a tree on a [p. 44] Samuel Thompson's farm. Woburn in those days adjoined Medford, and there were ‘a regiment of Thompsons in Woburn.’ One of them, Samuel by name, had a farm just over the line in Upper Medford, and on it, ‘forty or fifty rods south of the black horse tavern,’ was the tree the young Mr. Brooks visited. The real Samuel Thompson farm (on which was the tree grafted from the original Woodpecker tree in Wilmington) was seven miles from Mr. Brooks' home; this only two. ‘It was very old and partly decayed, but bore fruit abundantly.’ He said he ‘climbed it.’ He also tells about the woodpeckers' holes, which he might equally well have found on other trees. Doubtless he thought he had located the tree, mentioned by the governor, on Samuel Thompson's farm in Woburn. Because the fruit resembled the Baldwin, he claimed it as the real Woodpecker tree. Tewksbury, Burlington, Somerville, and Baldwin (Maine) have claimed the original tree, but the facts would seem to be finally fixed by the letter of Colonel Baldwin to Governor Bowdoin, February 13, 1784, when he sent him a ‘barrel of a particular species of apple which proceeded from a Tree, that originally grew spontaneously in the woods about fourteen miles north of Boston,’ and Colonel Baldwin knew the facts. Space forbids citing the various arguments in the famous controversy. They were carefully considered by Rev. Leander Thompson of Woburn, in an able article of twenty-four pages, published thirty years ago in the Winchester Record. We commend a careful perusal of this, which includes ‘the Medford claim’ of Mr. Brooks, as showing how easily errors creep into public print, and if unquestioned, into public belief. Also, even refuted, they still come into public notice, as did this one in a public gathering in Medford a year since. This is no reflection on the worthy and respected townsman who repeated it in good faith; nor yet on its original author, who was enthusiastic for Medford—but he claimed too much for her, in this as well as in other ways.
They say he spun a quaint old yarn
About,—and climbed the 'Pecker apple tree.
With apologies to Dr. Holmes.