Yesterday, in the happy aftermath of the Boston Bruins’ Wednesday night Stanley Cup victory, I took a moment to look through the Boston Public Library’s online collection of vintage hockey photos by Leslie Jones. Jones was a staff photographer for the Boston Herald-Traveler from 1917 to 1956, so his photos capture an era when “old time hockey” was simply the style of the day.
Boston has a long history as a hockey town, and that is evident in Jones’ photos. There are team photos like the one at left, where Bruins players form the letter “B” on the Boston Garden ice, and there are posed portraits of old-time hockey heroes such as goalie Tiny Thompson (pictured above), a four-time Vezina Trophy winner who led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 1929. Just as interesting, though, are more casual images of players signing autographs, leading hockey clinics for local kids, or hanging out in the team locker room. Jones’ photos capture the news of his day, and now that news is history, a faded record of how things used to be.
Throughout this past season, the National Hockey League has run a series of commercials encouraging fans to watch games because “history will be made.” Early in the playoffs, these commercials featured classic games such as the 1982 Miracle on Manchester, in which the Los Angeles Kings overcame a 5-0 deficit to beat Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers, or the 1987 Easter Epic, a playoff game between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals that went into four overtime periods. As the playoffs and Stanley Cup finals progressed, however, the commercials captured history-making moments from games that were merely days old, like the Canucks’ last minute win (“History goes down to the wire”) in Game 1, the Bruins’ 8-1 blowout (“History makes a statement”) in Game 3, or the Bruins’ 4-0 first period lead (“History works fast”) in Game 6. The message of these commercials was clear: keep your eyes open, because you never know when a lighting-fast play will make history.
And yet, the road to the Stanley Cup finals is filled with mundane moments that probably didn’t feel historic at the time. Today, I read an article about Bruins goalie Tim Thomas that explained how his working class parents in Flint, Michigan sold their wedding rings to send him to goalie camp as a kid. “They did it, likely, without even entertaining the idea that he’d one day make the NHL,” the article notes. “They did it, simply, because playing the game made him happy.” Thomas and his teammates won the Stanley Cup (“History returns to Boston”) because at each step along the way, they did the little things that add up to big wins. Some days, you know you’re making history by doing something monumental, like playing in a championship game. Most days, though, you’re just living your life: waking up, getting out of bed, and practicing (again) whatever job, sport, or craft you do. You send your kid to goalie camp, in other words, not because you think he’ll win the Stanley Cup decades later; you send your kid to goalie camp because you know it will make his day today.
I just started reading Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, and in its opening pages, Bryson says something interesting about history. Realizing that people have lived in the vicinity of his English home for “centuries and centuries…quietly going about their daily business,” Bryson realizes this sort of mundane activity is “really what history mostly is: masses of people doing ordinary things.” Although Bryson’s childhood schoolbooks were devoted to “historic” events such as battles and treaties, Bryson realizes as an adult that history is really the story of people “eating, sleeping, having sex, or endeavoring to be amused.”
When Leslie Jones took these now-archival photos, did he think he was making history? I suspect not. The commentary for the BPL Flickr collection of Jones’ work notes that Jones was “[m]odest about his abilities as a photographer…call[ing] himself a camera-man, not a photo-journalist.” Leslie Jones, in other words, made history simply by doing his job. Those NHL commercials were designed to inspire you to watch hockey games, but maybe the tagline “history will be made” should be a reminder for us to pay attention in our daily lives. Whether you realize it or not, the snapshot moments of your life today will automatically become the stuff of tomorrow’s history.