Joe Manning turned his efforts to genealogy, identifying hundreds of mill children photographed a century ago by Lewis Hine for the National Child Labor Committee.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Joe Manning, chronicler of the heart and soul of the city of North Adams, died Tuesday, April 27, at the age of 79 after a short illness.
Manning first discovered the Steeple City 25 years ago and became a frequent and beloved visitor. The author, historian, genealogist, freelance journalist, poet, photographer, and songwriter made the city his "spiritual home" even though he never lived here.
His writings included "Steeples: Sketches of North Adams," published in 1997 and featuring a collection of oral histories, photographs, essays, and poetry inspired by interviews and conversations with local people, "Disappearing into North Adams," a personalized retrospective of changes to the former mill town, and a book of similarly informed poetry "Gig At The Amtrak."
Manning also was a contributor to iBerkshires with his "Bytes from the Bean," a column he often wrote from his favorite coffeeshop, the former Appalachian Bean, and kept a blog called "Mornings on Maple Street."
He settled in Florence but fostered strong connections and relationships in North Adams, was a champion of the city, and a volunteer within the community, particularly working with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. In 1998, he helped plan and run the coalition's annual Neighborhood EXPO and was later named a North Berkshire Hero.
In 2001, he was presented the "key to the city," by then Mayor John Barrett III. "It's something that I'll treasure for the rest of my life," he told the former North Adams Transcript. "You don't often get something like this."
Manning was fascinated by the buildings and courtyards at the former print works that's now Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum two years ago installed "Joe Manning: Looking at North Adams," which encourages visitors to look out the windows with labels explaining the city's history and highlighted by his prose.
He took an interest in the city's history, saving the old letters
from the former J.J. Newberry's and donating them to the local museum, and tracking down mill children photographed by Lewis Hine. He identified hundreds of children
, including most famously Addie Card, the little Pownal, Vt., girl who inspired author Elizabeth Winthrop's "Counting on Grace" novel. His efforts identifying local children was featured in the "Mill Children," an exhibit that ran in North Adams and Adams.
City Councilor Keith Bona took to Facebook Wednesday night to remember the longtime friend and collaborator.
"I was honored to work closely with Joe Manning designing and producing his first two books 'Steeples' and 'Disappearing Into North Adams.' Never a resident of North Adams but more committed and connected to our community than most our natives. He made friends with many of us, embraced our history, and loved working with our students. Joe passed this week and will deeply be missed in North Adams. Thoughts and prayers to his wife Carole, family and friends."
"It was kind of fun being on the other end of an interview," he said. Though it was tough at first to answer the questions "because I'm thinking more academically as a historian." But he realized it was about sharing experiences.
"I just opened up and said exactly how I felt," he said. "It's fun to be interviewed."
Manning was born in Washington, D.C., son of Joseph and Mary Chaney Manning, and grew up in Maryland. He served four years in the Air Force as a medical corpsman.
In 1970, he received a bachelor's degree in sociology from the State University of New York at Cortland. He was a caseworker for the Connecticut Department of Social Services from 1970, until his retirement in 1999.
Manning lived with his wife, Carole, in Florence but was never far from North Adams. Besides his wife, he leaves two daughters, and many friends in North Berkshire.