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Skinner's 1888 diary unfolds on web

Date: 3/8/2013

By Aubri Bailly

HOLYOKE — If you would like to get inside the mind of a prominent part of Holyoke history, William Cobbett Skinner's 1888 Journal is exactly the kind of thing you're looking for.

These journal entries are available on the Wistariahurst Museum's website. The direct link to the journals is

"We have this brand new website and I was trying to think of ways to have people keep coming back. I knew that William kept a lot of journals and even though they're small entries, I thought it'd be fun," Curator and City Historian Penni Martorell stated.

Skinner was the oldest son of William Skinner, the founder of the Skinner Silk Mills and owner of Holyoke's textile mills. He lived from 1857 to 1947.

These journal entries, which will continue to expand weekly throughout the rest of this year, are ways to feel close to such an influential part of Holyoke's history.

Skinner, who was 31 at the time of the entries, enjoyed writing about his day-to-day business and things he would do. He always started off his entry with the weather for the day and his location. During that time, Skinner worked under his father in the silk business and took train rides to and from New York every single week.

According to Martorell, Skinner's handwriting is quite difficult to decipher. Dale Platenik, a volunteer with skills in interpreting handwriting, has decided to take on the task to figure out what Skinner's handwriting meant.

"I love the challenge of decoding Will's handwriting and I am learning all sorts of things about Will and the Skinner Family. It is quite fun," Platenik remarked.

Martorell is hoping to scan in actual pages of Skinner's journal sometime soon to show readers exactly what his handwriting looked like.

On Jan. 15, 1888, Skinner wrote that his father had been announced in that Sunday's Boston Herald as Holyoke's second richest man. William Whiting II, founder of Whiting Paper Company, was first. In another entry, Skinner wrote about was how on March 1, his Aunt Ruth had a sickness that was "hopeless" and said she only had a maximum of 6 months to live. He wrote that she "had a cancer."

Martorell mentioned that one intriguing thing readers have to prepare for is the Great Blizzard of 1888. This blizzard had snowfalls of 40 to 50 inches and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour. Railroads were shut down, so it will be interesting to see what Skinner did March 11 to 14.

"It's all unfolding to us as well so I can't tell you what's going to happen," Martorell exclaimed.