Interpreting winter seasonal decor in New England for the pre-Civil War period can be a tricky thing. Christmas as a major national celebration didn’t truly come into its own in the United States until the mid-19th century and Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November wasn’t established at the national level until President Lincoln’s decree of 1863.
Without delving too deeply into the history of Christmas and other winter holidays in the United States and early colonies, I wanted to share a little of how we decorate Buckman Tavern for the winter. I cut my eye teeth in museum work at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They host an annual Candlelight Stroll of their many historic houses and helping prepare for these events taught me what traditions are pretty universal in wintertime (at least north of the equator!).
When the days grow short and the weather grows cold, it’s natural to want to add light and natural elements to your home. Decorating with fresh greens and fresh or dried fruit was common even before the excess of Victorian-era Christmas. Real natural objects in a historic building, however, are not recommended due to possible risk of pest infestation or fire. So what do you do if you can’t use real? Go faux!
We use a lot of faux greens and food in the houses, which come from a variety of sources. From specialty companies that produce faux food for museum exhibits to IKEA and Amazon, we’ve spent years amassing the raw material with which to make the tavern glow.
Take this photo, for example. This is the long table (actually two historic tables) in the West Room of the tavern. Normally, it holds candlesticks, writing paper, inkwells, quill pens, pounce pots, and reproduction maps and newspapers. As such, it is interpreted as a meeting space for the town government and for the local militia.
For the holidays, however, it’s interpreted as a meal space for a large group. The tablecloth and napkins are oatmeal colored linen that I use for exhibits, the tartan scarf is a Munroe family pattern that I borrowed from gift shop stock, and the greenery is faux pine garland from a craft store. The apples, turkey, and lemons (far end) are faux. Note: the turkey is one of our tour guide and staff favorites. Check out this video to see how it came to be.
The candlesticks, ceramics, pewter plate, and most of the pewter mugs are period, all probably dating between 1750 and 1840 (details about most of these objects are in our online catalog). It’s great fun and a great challenge to tie modern, exhibit-appropriate props with period pieces in a way that looks consistent and appealing.
One final item to mention is our Christmas tree. We place a small fake tree in the kitchen and decorate it with basic rustic ornaments of wood and tin. It also bears a large text label “ornament” that explains that it is, in fact, a time traveler. Our historic houses are interpreted for 1775 and Christmas trees didn’t arrive in Lexington until the 1830s. There’s a fascinating story about how they did, actually.
Buckman Tavern is decorated for the season and open to all for free on the day of the Lexington Tea Burning. The 2019 date is not decided yet, but it is usually the second Sunday of the month. Watch our social media and website next year for your opportunity to see the seasonal decor in person! And check out the photos below to see how the tavern looked in 2018.
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
Deaccession: /ˌdēakˈseSHən/ verb, to officially remove an item from a museum’s collection.
For museum professionals, especially those who work directly with collections, this word is relatively commonplace and frequently utilized. If you are not plugged into the museum world, though, you may have never heard this term before. In fact, the term itself is fairly new. The first known use of the word “deaccession” was in 1972 – the year in which deaccessioning and its related ethics were brought to the forefront with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Hoving Affair”. (You can read more about that event here.)
For those of us who work with museum collections, deaccessioning means removing certain items from a museum’s holdings. There are various reasons for doing this. For us at Lexington Historical Society, items are typically considered for deaccession if they do not directly pertain to Lexington and its history. Or, items are sometimes deaccessioned if we have numerous copies of the same item (as is sometimes the case with books or pamphlets), since it is archival best practice to keep only about three to five copies of a specific item.
Lest anyone be concerned that we are spontaneously removing items from our collection, rest assured that we are not!! Deaccessioning is not a simple process, and for good reason. Removing items from the collection is something that takes a lot of time and consideration. The required criteria and steps for deaccessioning are detailed in our Collections Management Policy, which is a policy that most collections-based institutions have in some form. Our policy includes specifics concerning criteria for deaccessioning, the procedure for deaccessioning (including who can approve a deaccession), the process for disposition of materials, and any required related documentation. Each item that is a candidate for deaccession is carefully considered by staff, the Collections Committee, and the Board of Directors. Thus, no items would or could ever be carelessly removed.
Items that are deaccessioned due to their lack of a Lexington connection are often sent to an institution where they might be more relevant. For example, if we have a book about the Old North Bridge, we might contact the Special Collections at Concord Public Library.
On occasion, deaccessioned items may be brought to an auction house for sale. In these cases where items from a museum’s collections are sold for profit, it is important to consider the appropriate use of any income received from these deaccessioned materials. At Lexington Historical Society, we make sure that any funds received from deaccessioning collections are directly channeled into collections and their care. This is the standard accepted by several professional museum organizations, and thus it is our standard, too. (You can read more about this in American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Code of Ethics for Museums under the “Collections” heading here.)
Though this seems straightforward, there is often a debate concerning whether funds from deaccessioning can be used for institutional survival or a museum’s financial well-being. After all, is it worth retaining these invaluable, cultural items if there is no institution to house them in the end? (You can read more about this debate here.) While this is a valid point, we want to ensure that museum ethics and building public trust are at the forefront of everything that we do.
This might all make deaccessioning, when done properly, seem straight forward, organized, and ethical. This is certainly the goal of having and enforcing of these types of policies! As deaccessioning is often a necessary procedure for museums, archives, and libraries, following these policies is crucial. The staff here at Lexington Historical Society want you to know that we take the custodial care and maintenance of our collections very seriously, and we make it a priority to hold ourselves to the highest of ethical standards when assessing the items in our holdings.
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
As we move into the final days of the 2018 tourism season and into the Thanksgiving holiday here at Lexington Historical Society, I thought I’d reflect a little on the many things for which I am thankful as the Education and Interpretation Manager.
Have a great holiday season and we’ll hopefully see some of you in 2019!!!
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
You can probably see by now that working at the Historical Society takes a wide variety of skill sets. As professionals, our staff is always working towards improving our skills and learning new ones. This is why we’re always looking for professional development opportunities to attend, such as classes, workshops, webinars, and conferences. (Don’t tell the kids, but school never ends in this line of work!)
Topics for these opportunities range far and wide as our positions and expertise require. From webinars on proper archival storage climates to lectures on fundraising, our staff is always looking for learning opportunities.
Here’s a taste of what our staff has been learning recently:
Archives Manager Elizabeth and I attended the New England Archivists conference on ethics in archives a few weeks ago. Did you know that many museum professional organizations have a code of ethics? They are used as standards to create best practices from, as well as guide professionals through tricky situations.
Next up on our calendar is the New England Museum Association annual conference (their centennial one). Chris, Sarah, and Stacey will all be attending this three-day conference later this week - and you know they’ll have their pencils, phones, and business cards at the ready. Not only does NEMA’s annual conference allow us to learn from our peers, it also provides wonderful networking opportunities. Conferences such as this spark new ideas and create lasting partnerships between staff and organizations.
Professional development opportunities abound in our field. We’re lucky to be able to attend many of these sessions for free, and so can you. Though some are paid classes and conferences, there often are free or low-cost webinars and local lectures on a variety of topics related to museums and archives. So, keep an eye peeled for something educational, and don’t forget to bring a notebook!
-Lina Rosenberg, Operations Manager and Archivist
Those who keep up with our many events may have seen myself, along with Executive Director Erica McAvoy and Board Member Paul O’Shaughnessy, at the recent reenactment of British troops landing in Boston in 1768. This event was put on by Revolution250, a consortium of museums and other organizations who are planning Sestercentennial (that’s 250 years!) reenactments and events relating to the American Revolution in Massachusetts. The group organizers have also been sharing tidbits about other Revolutionary events to keep the interest going.
A couple of days ago, Rev250 posted on their Facebook page that it was the anniversary of Levi Ames’s hanging. That was a name I did not expect to see, and one with a Lexington connection at that!
Ames was a rather infamous cat burglar in the 1760s and 70s. Only a teenager, he was able to not only sneak into people’s homes undetected, but after being caught and released, his reputation was apparently so great that people were hiring him to rob their relatives and enemies. It wasn’t until May 22nd of 1773 that Ames made it to Lexington. He went straight for homes with money, starting with Reverend Jonas Clarke. While the family was asleep, recovering from a measles outbreak, Ames broke into the home and stole Lucy Clarke’s wedding silver, including a tankard, pepper box, and sugar tongs. The spree continued over the next few months, until the burglar was caught in August with stolen goods belonging to a man named Martin Bicker.
The first time he was caught, Ames was charged with simple theft and branded. This time he wasn’t so lucky. Justice Peter Oliver charged him with the capital crime of burglary and sentenced him to hang. Ames was only 21 years old.
After hearing of the sentencing, Reverend Clarke travelled to Boston to convince Ames to repent before his execution. We now know Clarke as a dynamic public speaker, but this was one of his greatest achievements – not only did he convince Ames to confess to stealing the family silver, but Ames also revealed where it was hidden, and Clarke happily returned home with his stolen goods that same day.
The execution took place on October 20th, which Clarke recorded briefly in his diary (“Levi Ames executed!”). Perhaps he also purchased a copy of one of the broadsides printed for the occasion, purporting to tell of Ames’s poetic last words eschewing all evil and preaching to the crowd to avoid his terrible fate.
Two of these broadsides are currently held in the Library of Congress, one titled “The Dying Groans of Levi Ames”, and the other, “An Address to the Inhabitants of Boston (Particularly the Thoughtless Youth)." (More on these items). Whether or not Clarke shared either of these to his children to scare them straight is sadly lost to history.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Lexington Historical Society has a long history of partnering with other organizations in town, and I’m thrilled to announce that we will be working with New Legacy Culture Center in a new partnership this fall.
The New Legacy Cultural Center is a new organization focused on education and culture. It offers classes to people of all ages in Lexington such as Chinese brush painting, meditation, yoga, English language, and Chinese language. While many of the classes are centered around aspects of Chinese culture, the goal of New Legacy Cultural Center is to offer learning experiences to people in the community of all cultures. The classes take place on Saturdays at Lexington High School.
Ting Fang, one of the organization’s volunteers, met with me and Chris Kauffman, our Manager of Education and Interpretation, to see if Lexington Historical Society would have something to offer that might fit in with their mission. Since we’re all about learning here, we were very excited!
We’ve decided to offer a “Colonial Kids” program, similar to the Colonial Kids at the Depot. Each session will cover a historical topic designed in a way to help children grasp the concepts through a hands-on approach. Kids will learn about Lexington in the colonial era, and how life then compares to life today. The program will begin on Saturday, October 20 and will meet every Saturday for eight weeks (except November 24) from 1pm to 2pm.
Members of Lexington Historical Society get a discount on registration, and will pay just $80 for this program (email email@example.com for a discount code). The cost is $130 for non-members. Visit the New Legacy Cultural Center website to register.
We are thrilled to be working with the New Legacy Cultural Center, and look forward to discovering new partnership possibilities to bring history to the community!
-Erica McAvoy, Executive Director
As we get closer to the beginning of Lexington's WWI centennial commemorative activities this fall, I've been combing through all of the Society's WWI related materials - photos, textiles, documents, etc. Lexington resident Stanley Hill, who died after the second Battle of the Marne, has become the poster boy for this fall's program. In the first week of October, Lexington residents will see his image on street banners, posters, flyers, and rack cards around town.
We are lucky to have a recent donation of photos, medals, and other items from Stanley's niece, Shirley Stolz. One of the photos we have of him is this one, taken at Camp de Chalons Barracks at Mourmelon le Grande in July 1917. At the time, Stanley was in the AEF (American Expeditionary Force) and attached to the French army.
Two things struck me about this photo. First, Stanley is holding a poster of a drowning woman from the Lusitania, which was sent to him from the United States. This poster was drawn by Fred Spear and produced by the Boston Committee of Public Safety in June 1915, after the sinking of the British Passenger Liner, Lusitania. Stanley is holding the poster just over two years after the tragic event and he, along with other young men who joined the fight, has heeded that appeal.
Secondly, as our collections record blandly states, "George Allison is shaving in the background." Who is George Allison? His name is not on the list of Lexington men who fought in the war, so it's possible that he was in the First Dartmouth Unit, to which Stanley belonged at that time. Whoever he is, I like how he is going about his daily ablutions, seemingly heedless of the posed photo going on outside the window.
It's century-old images like this one that help put a face to the war, help us understand the daily lives of soldiers, and hopefully comprehend a little better the sacrifices that were made. Starting next Monday, October 1, look for a new exhibit in the CVS Pharmacy windows on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington. The exhibit features images and biographies of the eight men that Lexington lost in the Great War, including Stanley Hill.
More about the Enlist poster:
More about daily hygiene for WWI soldiers:
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
This coming fall, Lexington Historical Society is partnering with several other organizations in town, including the Town Celebrations Committee, Lexington Minute Men, Lexington Veteran's Association, and Cary Memorial Library, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the ending of WWI.
I’m thrilled to share that the Community Endowment of Lexington, an Endowed Fund of the Foundation for MetroWest, has given us a generous grant of $4,000 to support this work. The Community Endowment of Lexington promotes a spirit of philanthropic giving to help enhance the quality of life for all Lexington citizens now and in the future. In addition to support from the Lions Club and the Rotary Club of Lexington, the Community Endowment of Lexington’s grant will allow us to bring an often forgotten aspect of Lexington’s history to the community.
This commemoration will include an exhibit in the CVS windows in Lexington center on the soldiers who died in the war, exhibits at Cary Memorial Library, lectures, a panel discussion, and several other programs that touch on many aspects of the war.
As I’ve worked on the committee to prepare for this commemoration, I’ve learned a bit about Lexington’s involvement in the war, and it’s truly fascinating. One of the things that I thought was of particular interest was Lexington’s Liberty Loan Flags. During the war, towns encouraged folks to buy bonds to finance the American war effort. If a town met its quota, it was awarded a Liberty Loan flag from the U.S. Treasury. Lexington met its quota for all five Liberty Loan drives, and received accordingly; having met the quota for all drives was marked by a line through the flag given for the fourth loan. Lexington Historical Society has all four flags in its collection.
An event I’m particularly excited about is the Armistice Day Poppy Gala to benefit Lexington Historical Society which will take place on October 19 at the Masonic Lodge right near the Green. This event will feature a plated dinner and several live bands playing songs from WWI. In addition, there will be a raffle and live auction and guests will be encouraged to dress in period attire. More information about the Poppy Gala is available here.
I look forward to commemorating the ending of WWI, and I hope that you will join us at these events to learn about this fascinating aspect of Lexington’s history.
For information on the WWI commemoration and how to contribute to the conservation of the Liberty Loan flags, please visit our World War I Commemoration page.
-Erica McAvoy, Executive Director
Everyone’s house has a story to tell.
Maybe your house was built two hundred years ago and has a fascinating history and a rich story of its inhabitants before you. Maybe it stood during the Revolutionary War or was home to a historically significant figure.
Maybe your house was built during the 1950s. Maybe it was built by a well-known mid-century modern architect in one of Lexington’s architecturally significant planned communities.
Or maybe you designed your house yourself only a few years ago. You carefully considered the exact layout and design that would be best for you and researched and installed all the amenities that you found important. Yours is the first and only family to have inhabited it, and you are the very beginning of its story.
Regardless of the age of your house, that house is your home. Whether you know a lot about the history of your house, or whether you know nothing and would like to learn more, your home has its own unique story that it is waiting to tell you.
Many people are fascinated with learning the story that their home has to tell. What has their home seen over the years? How has it changed since its original construction? Who else lived there, and who else made it their home, too? There are a lot of resources that you can use to learn more about your home in Lexington.
In Lexington Historical Society Archives, the most common research requests we get are concerning the history of specific homes and buildings in town. We have realized that people love to know about where they live! To that end, we have been working in the archives to get our Properties and Landmarks Collection online so that this collection, and others, can be available to the public. Individuals can now search this collection for their address to see any information or photographs that we might have on their home. Don’t forget, though – if your search doesn’t yield any results for your address, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any information! This is an extensive collection, and while we are doing our best to make it available online in its entirety as quickly as possible, we aren’t there yet! So, if you don’t see any information on your address, be in touch and we will see what we can find for you.
The Society isn’t the only resource available to those in Lexington, though. You can also find more information on your house at the Town of Lexington Archives, Cary Memorial Library, and by browsing the Historical Commission’s Cultural Resources Survey, where you can find information on the architectural and historical importance of specific Lexington houses and neighborhoods.
If you are interested in learning more about all of these resources available in Lexington, consider attending the panel discussion “Discover Your Home’s History” on Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 9:30am at Cary Memorial Library, where representatives from all of the above organizations will be participating as panel members!
And always remember – your house is your home. And you are now part of its story and history.
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
If you’ve been in Lexington during the spring or summer, you’ve probably heard the unmistakable sound of the bell from the Old Belfry. Every Patriot’s Day it helps to announce the arrival of the British Regulars during the Battle of Lexington Reenactment. Perhaps you’ve been in town during the Historical Society’s week-long summer camp and have heard it as participants of the camp take turns ringing the bell. But what’s the story of the Old Belfry? The unique and somewhat forgotten history of one of the more lesser known properties the Historical Society cares for starts years before its clanging bells alerted the townspeople of Lexington to the approach of the British Regulars.
Charles Hudson doesn’t discuss the belfry in much detail in his book History of the Town of Lexington, but he does discuss the origins of the structure. He mentions a specific town meeting held on June 15, 1761 when Isaac Stone presented the town with a bell “weighted four hundred and sixty-three pounds” and the Town’s conclusion that a structure to house the bell should be placed “on ye top of ye Hill upon ye North side of Liet. Jonas Munroes house” (Hudson, 60). However, this site would not be the structure’s permanent home.
After the death of Jonas, his son John asked the town that his property tax be reduced in return for allowing the belfry to be on his land. The town resisted the proposal, leading to the first relocation of the belfry, when rather stealthily on one night in 1767, a group of unknown people secretly moved the belfry to the Town Common. This secret move instigated a small bit of drama in town and even made its way on to Town Meeting’s agenda in hopes of resolving the issue. Eventually the decision was reached to move the belfry to a different part of the Common. This third location of the belfry is where the structure would be when the Battle of Lexington occurred on April 19th, 1775 and its bell would ring out in unison with many other alarms during those early morning hours (this location is now marked by a boulder, placed on the Common in 1910). The location marked by the boulder is where the structure would remain until 1797 at which point it was sold to the Parker family and moved to their homestead on Spring Street and used as a wheelwright shop.
It wasn’t until 1891 that the Old Belfry would come under the auspices of the Historical Society. At a meeting in February of 1891, Mr. James S. Munroe, after purchasing the Old Belfry from the Parker family, offered it to the Historical Society “if they would move it to town and place it in a prominent place” (LHS Proceedings Vol. II, ii). The Historical Society agreed and a committee was selected and tasked to “restore it to a suitable location near its original position” (Hudson, p. 490). Later that month, the Society voted to place the Old Belfry on the lot for the new Hancock School on Clarke Street, marking the belfry’s fifth location in town. On Saturday April 18, 1891 the Society held a dedication service to the restoration of the Old Belfry.
However, as happens with wooden buildings, the belfry began to fall into a state of disrepair and decay. The original belfry would cease to exist when on June 20, 1909 a strong gale wind would damage the structure beyond repair. The Historical Society formed a committee of three people who would “have full charge of rebuilding the Old Belfry . . . on such site as the Committee may select.” (LHS Proceedings Vol. IV, 182). The reproduction was installed in March 1910 and was “constructed as nearly as possible on its old lines and on the same site.” (Proceedings Vol. IV, 184). After only three years the belfry was relocated one last time, from the back end of Belfry Hill to its present site on the front part of the hill.
If you find yourself at the corner of Clarke Street and Massachusetts Avenue, follow the trail that leads to the Old Belfry, but mind your step as the trail is rocky and steep in some sections. More info on the belfry.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager