The last week of June is normally one of the busier weeks of year for me at Lexington Historical Society. Typically, our historic houses are open and just starting to buzz with the influx of visitors to Lexington and we have just finished up with our school group season so I’m crunching numbers on how many smiling faces learned what Rev. Clarke ate. However, one of my favorite tasks of this week is finalizing craft materials and plans for our First Shot Summer Camp.
Our summer camp typically runs for a week the week after Independence Day and allows campers to not only view our historic sites in person, but also become active participants as they complete crafts and activities similar to what Lexington residents would have been completing during the Colonial and Revolutionary War eras in Lexington. It has always been such a joy to see how artistic and thorough the campers are as they craft a tin lantern from an aluminum soup can or design & sew their own haversacks.
However, like many things so far this season, we have been challenged to reimagine what a camp would look like for this summer. With the small touring spaces in our historic homes and the uncertainty of site-specific COVID-19 protocols, we’ve decided to offer the summer camp virtually. This year’s version of camp will be held the week of July 20-24 and will consist of two sessions each day (1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon).
Campers will go on a virtual tour in the morning with a member of our staff and then in the afternoon will receive instruction on a hands-on craft relating to Colonial life. Our “Camp in a Box” kits will be available for pickup (or mailing) as we approach the dates for camp.
While we understand that one of the unique aspects of camp in interacting with staff and other participants in a person-to-person setting, we are hopeful that participants of our virtual camp will at least be able to interact with the history we normally experience during First Shot Summer Camp.
If you’re interested in signing up for the camp, please visit our website. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Being a tour guide at the Historical Society gives you a unique set of conversational skills.
In essence, like all educators, I have been something resembling a professional public speaker for over a decade. It involves having to speak to groups of all sizes, ages, levels of education, and proficiency in English. On a busy day, a guide might have to teach the same subject matter to a class of third graders, a family of tourists from Germany, and a group of college professors. Inside, outside, microphone or no, walking or standing still, a single person or a hundred - it’s hard to be fazed after having dealt with so many variables for so long.
Zoom threw me for a loop.
When the world came to a screeching halt in mid-March, we had a wide roster of events on the horizon. Spring is the busiest time of year for the Historical Society: in addition to the usual lectures and book club meetings, several large fundraisers were in the middle of planning, and Patriots’ Day was on the horizon. We scrambled to find ways to reschedule or reimagine these events on new platforms.
Before long, we, along with the rest, began the awkward process of learning the art of video conferencing for people other than far-away relatives. Corners of strategically placed books were cultivated. Laptops were elevated at precise angles. We purchased a setup for webinars – a function that ensures that all eyes are on the speaker, as the audience’s cameras are deactivated.
Looking into the void can be terrifying. When you hit the broadcast button and the number of viewers begins rising at the bottom of the screen, there is always a terrifying moment where you nearly forget how to function as a human being. There is no simple way of knowing if things are operating properly, if people can see and hear you. All you have is a tiny camera lens to focus on, while trying not to look at your own moving image underneath it. Stage fright makes you hyper-aware of your every move; can you imagine compounding that with being able to actually see your every move in real time as well?
As it turns out, speaking into the void has a learning curve like any other. Lessons get learned and life moves on. I have been so pleased with everyone’s ability to pivot and reimagine how a public program can be run. The world has weathered audio and visual issues, zoom-bombing, and more, but the continued interest in coming together to learn about history has been heartening. Even when we are apart, there is an intrinsic need to feel a part of a community, to interact, and to learn together. Our programs so far have allowed us to have wonderful discussions with people from all over the country and the world, and to hear from speakers up to 97 years old.
This new world brings many challenges, but we will persevere. With each new challenge comes a host of new opportunities as well, for people to connect with and learn from each other.
And, so far, no one has yet become a potato by mistake. It’s the small things in life that matter most.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
On August 18th, 2020 -- the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage -- I will turn 18 years old. For the first time in my life, I’ll have the chance to vote in a presidential election. I certainly don’t take the opportunity to vote lightly, but how do I even begin to wrap my head around this decision? The whole world has been brought to a screeching halt with a global pandemic; schools and businesses have shut down and public transportation has largely been abandoned as we abide by stay at home orders. We’ve been quarantined for the past eight and half weeks already. As for the political situation, it’s vicious. I’ve been told that this upcoming election is one of the most complex presidential races in the history of the United States. So, what am I to think? What am I to do?
To answer this question, I often wonder what my Nana would have said. She grew up during the great depression, survived World War II and 9/11, battled cancer twice, and never complained. Shea was extremely proud of all of her grandkids’ accomplishments, and was excited for the opportunities that awaited her granddaughters in particular. She would’ve had the right to vote in 1947, but as a young woman with very little money she had limited opportunities. My Nana once told me she only had a few career options: secretary, clerical worker, or bank teller. However, she watched the great strides women have made over the decades and was encouraged about opportunities available to her granddaughters that she never had herself.
Reflecting on my Nana’s experiences prompted me to dig a little deeper. Before the pandemic shut down its doors, the historical society in my town launched an exhibit titled Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington. This is how I discovered the motto of the Women’s Suffrage Movement “Something Must Be Done.” I began to wonder this: if something needed to be done then, how does that apply to what must be done now? What did those bold women like my Nana have to overcome?
I found that in order to secure the right to vote, women had to be incredibly persistent; the women’s movement began in 1848, 72 years before suffrage was finally accomplished. The town of Lexington witnessed this brave perseverance with the passing of the Lexington suffrage banner. In November of 1912, the Lexington Equal Suffrage Association reconvened for their first meeting in which Caroline Wellington and fellow suffragettes presented the original banner to the association. Initially created for the Lexington Women's Suffrage League in 1887, the banner was now being handed down to a new generation of suffragists nearly twenty-five years later. This new generation would continue the decades-long fight for equal voting rights until its accomplishment just eight years later, using the banner emblazoned with the phrase “Something Must Be Done” as their symbol and guide.
The town of Lexington also watched the various setbacks over the course of this movement, including the failure of the 1915 referendum. The Lexington Equal Suffrage Association helped pin up 300 bluebirds throughout the town during the statewide campaign to grant Massachusetts women the vote. Despite their enormous contribution, the referendum failed with nearly 65% of men voting against women’s suffrage. Although this was a devastating defeat, victory was close. The bluebird remained a symbol of hope for Massachusetts women, and was even used to commemorate suffragist Lucy Stone’s birthday a month later.
As an 18-year-old today, it is easy to take the suffragists’ hard work for granted. In a few short months, I will fill out a ballot, feed it into a machine or put it in the mailbox, and my voice will be heard. A year ago I wouldn’t think much of it, if anything at all. However, this pandemic has become a wake-up call to me. Something must be done to stop the spread of the virus, to provide relief for those who are suffering, and to reopen not just the economy but the world as we know it. There is something that we can do. We can vote.
In the midst of a global crisis and a highly contested election year, we have the power to elect someone who will fight for what we believe in. This pandemic has unearthed the multitude and immensity of the issues we face as a country, ranging from environmental to economic to health care to social justice and more. This is our wake up call. Although we may feel powerless, each of us can still get involved by using our power to vote. The women of the suffrage movement knew just how important our votes are and how critical it is that each of us is heard. So this is our call to action - whether it is in a ballot in a ballot box or an envelope in a mail box, we must make our voices heard.
If my Nana was still here today, I know she would tell me to not lose hope. She would gently remind me that this situation is temporary, and that there are still many opportunities for me. Then she would tell me to use those opportunities because good things will happen. And she would be right.
History is in the making. The women of the suffrage movement persevered through many trials and setbacks, and so can we. Something must be done, something was done, and something will be done again.
-Amy Palmer, local student and guest author
"Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington" tells the stories of Lexington citizens who fought for what they believed in - whether it was British taxation, voting rights, or the institution of slavery. For more about the exhibit, visit our current exhibits page.
Find out more about suffrage bluebirds and get your own Bluebird of Hope here.
Birds twitter outside my door. My children and those of the neighbors shriek and play in their respective yards. Every so often, my partner or I head out to procure supplies. Every day is an exhausting, illuminating adventure on ½ acre.
Today, I’m pondering the similarities and differences between my work for the Historical Society now, in the time of COVID-19, and the lives of the Lexington residents who lived through, for example, the 1721 smallpox epidemic.
For my very selfish part, I am grateful to have a home, a job (and the ability to do said job from home), and the flexibility to teach my kids and work at the same time. Some of these things would have been possible in 18th century Lexington, but some would not (like a paying job outside the home - I am still a woman).
Without getting into modern politics, what are some of the pros or cons you can think of for living in 1721 or 2020 during an epidemic of disease?
*On a side note, it is extremely interesting to be an historian living through an historical moment. I feel as though anyone in the library/archives/museum field has a heightened awareness (our “Spidey sense,” so to speak) of what materials we should be collecting, what stories we should be preserving, whose voices we should be seeking out in this historic moment. This pandemic has changed almost everything about what we do, how we interact, even who we are. It’s a watershed moment in global and U.S. history and it is fascinating (though sometimes terrifying) to live through it.*
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
Well... it is not just archivists at home these days. In recent weeks, many of us have been spending a lot more time at home than we normally do. For some professions, working from home was a fairly easy transition. For those of us in the museum field, we have had to become a little bit more creative – which, of course, is not always a bad thing!
One might think that there is not a lot to keep an archivist busy without easy and immediate access to all our institution’s collections. But think again! While research and other activities that require physical proximity to collections are obviously proving to be a bit more difficult, there are numerous other projects that I have been able to work on. Some of these projects have been “back burner” projects for quite a while – always on my radar, but never of immediate importance. Thus, they always seem to get pushed aside while more pressing items retain priority. This pandemic era, where research requests and archival programs have been limited, has proven to be an excellent time to bump up these items on the to-do list and ensure that they are completed properly.
For example, I have been able to use this time to work on updating our Emergency Preparedness Plan to ensure that it reflects all current information. New data was added regarding our Archives and Research Center, since we just recently completed our collections move into this new building. I was also able to add an entirely new section on an emergency response plan for a pandemic based on what we learned from our recent experiences – which, I must say, is something I never thought that I would have to write.
Additionally, as part of a staff-wide initiative regarding volunteering, I have also been able to work on an Archival Volunteer Handbook, which will formalize our volunteer program in the archives and help to standardize the volunteer requirements and outline specific processes. I have also been able to work on a few different Finding Aids for some of the collections in our holdings, so that access will be made easier for researchers when we can once again accommodate them. And of course, there is always advance preparation to be done for future programming and initiatives, as well as the day-to-day answering of emails, inquiries, and smaller research requests that can be completed through access to our digital collections. Getting to flesh out all these smaller projects, though, has assured me that, when we can finally return to our offices, our historic houses, and our collections, we can hit the ground running stronger than ever.
However, I have also been doing a whole lot of brainstorming. Archives exist to preserve documents, records, and collective memory. In our case, this preservation concerns Lexington’s history specifically. Right now, Lexington, along with the rest of the world, is in the midst of a particularly challenging time in its history. As a community and as individuals, these challenges of daily life are necessarily being met in unique and sometimes highly creative ways. For the benefit of future generations, I believe that it is imperative that we capture this moment in Lexington’s history as best we can, thereby creating a compilation of “What Life Was Like” during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
Many of you will recall our “Lexington Remembers: World War I” events that took place in 2018. During this time, I realized that while our collections chronicled big events in Lexington that took place during World War I, many of the stories of daily life were lacking. One of the most prominent examples of this is the fact that we had surprisingly little in our collections regarding the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. The few items that we did have were pertaining to one man, Dr. Fred S. Piper, who was involved in H Company in Lexington and as a medical professional during epidemic. Dr. Piper documented that there were likely 500 or more cases of the flu in Lexington by November of 1918, and it was proving no less fatal here than anywhere else. (See our World War I Collection online for more information.) Data kept in town offices could provide vital statistics… but why do we have no records personalizing the experiences of the citizens in town? How were people feeling? How did they navigate daily life? How did they respond to and handle the logistics of the Presidential Election of 1918?
With the exception that we are not simultaneously facing a World War (and, albeit, this is no small exception), there are many similarities to be drawn between this outbreak in 1918 and the outbreak we are facing today. However, this time I am hoping to better document this period in Lexington’s history: the impact of schools and businesses being closed; the heroism of those still working in the medical field or as essential workers; the challenges of those working from home or who are not able to work at all; the experiences of those who have been isolated, ill, or lost a loved one; and anything else that sheds insight on the experiences of the individual. How has this experience affected YOU?
Numerous other historical and cultural organizations are also finding this documentation to be critical. You can take a peek at some impressive initiatives that have been started by Massachusetts Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Society, New York Historical Society, Heinz History Center, university archives such as at Carnegie Mellon University, and dozens of others throughout the country and world. Though we are a much smaller institution, Lexington Historical Society will be launching its own collecting initiative in the near future, so please stay tuned for how you can affect the way that this time in history is remembered. Please consider joining us in this community project!
P.S. Want to brainstorm with us? Thankfully, there are a ton of great resources out there! Here is a very interesting article published in mid-April by Atlas Obscura entitled “How Museums Will Eventually Tell the Story of COVID-19.” And here’s another by Smithsonian Magazine: “As COVID-19 Reshapes the World, Cultural Institutions Collect Oral Histories.”
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
On the afternoon of April 19, 1775 as Lieutenant Colonel Smith’s force of Regulars reached Lexington common where they had killed eight men and wounded ten others earlier that morning, things were not going in their favor. Minute and militia companies from all over the countryside swarmed the column on their return back to Boston, shooting at them from behind walls, barns, houses, and trees. The Regulars were low on ammunition and had lost a number of men killed and wounded.
Then Lord Percy arrived with his fresh relief force, a brigade of around one thousand men. As Reverend William Gordon described “But a little on this side Lexington Meeting-House where they were met by the Brigade, with cannon, under Lord Percy, the scene changed. The inhabitants had quitted their houses in general upon the road, leaving almost everything behind them, and thinking themselves well off in escaping with their lives. The soldiers burnt in Lexington three houses, one barn, and two shops, one of which joined to the house and a mill-house adjoining to the barn; other houses and buildings were attempted to be burnt, and narrowly escaped.” Things would get worse as both sides took out years of frustration on each other.
Primary sources record that the Regulars began shooting at doors and windows of every home along the route back to Boston. This was aimed at stopping the Provincials from inflicting casualties on the retreating army. In some cases the British set fire to homes along the way. At Buckman’s Tavern in Lexington, Smith’s forces began to meet up with Percy’s, and at least one musket shot struck the building. On March 13, 2020, we were able to examine the original front door displayed in the tavern just feet away from where it was originally hung. While this was part of a larger study that will be assembled and published at a later date, the anniversary of the event is a good chance to share a small piece of the much broader study.
The door was first inspected to verify its age and authenticity. It fits all of the construction methods for a door of the third quarter of the 18th century. The bullet hole is located close to the bottom edge of the door and measures approximately .70 in diameter. The exterior side of the door shows a fairly round entrance hole and an open path through the door at a very noticeable horizontal angle, but a fairly level vertical angle. The exit side is typical of others that we have documented in that as it passed through the door it blew out wood fragments from the inside panel leaving a splintered surface around the exit hole. Following the trajectory of the ball we could see where it would have likely impacted interior architectural elements but interior wall paneling in that location has been replaced since April 19, 1775, thus no secondary impact evidence could be located.
Using a ballistics rod and a compass, we were able to determine approximately where outside the tavern the shooter was standing when he fired. The tavern sits upon a noticeable rise that slopes towards Massachusetts Avenue. Looking at the grade changes outside the structure and combining that with the low impact point on the door and the nearly horizontal patch the bullet traveled through the door, we can surmise that it was likely fired fairly close to the tavern at the bottom of the slope in front. The trajectory matches what a soldier firing a musket from the natural firing position at this lower ground elevation could accomplish. This would more than likely make this strike from the Regulars return to Boston and Percy’s arrival and not earlier in the day. From this point on, the fighting would get heavier and more destructive to property as well as human life.
There are many other ball strikes from April 19 to be shared along with all of the data, but that will be saved for the much larger study. Stay tuned!
-Joel Bohy and Christopher Fox
As businesses and communities close their doors due to COVID-19, a major movement has taken place to create digital content that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. This topic is constantly being covered in news articles as well as an online course regarding museum leadership in which I’m currently enrolled. Museums and historical sites have been forced to rethink the ways we interpret our collections, archives, and historic sites. Lexington Historical Society staff has been hard at work since we closed our offices in March creating ways to share our wonderful collections and knowledge with our community and those around the world. One aspect of our digital content had already been started over a year and a half ago when I began working with Scott and Siobhan Loftus-Reid of Mass 3D Spaces.
I first met with Scott and Siobhan after a suggestion by a board member to partner with Mass 3D Spaces, a local company that “specializes in creating immersive 3D interactive tours (powered by Matterport)." LHS Executive Director Erica McAvoy and I sat down with Scott and Siobhan to discuss how the Matterport technology they use for virtual real estate tours might assist in making Lexington’s history more accessible to a nationwide audience. After chatting with Siobhan and Scott about the technology and the passion they shared with Lexington Historical Society for sharing Lexington’s unique history, the decision was made to move forward and work together on this project.
With the assistance of a collection of reenactors and volunteers, Historical Society staff along with Siobhan and Scott have been meeting at our three historic houses and filming inside each location. During each photo shoot, we have been able to stage actors in our historic rooms to represent the historic people, periods, and aspects of each house’s unique history. We’ve been able to capture the panic of Aunt Lydia and Dorothy Quincy as they prepare to flee from the Hancock-Clarke House, the calm moments spent by Lexington’s militia in Buckman Tavern as they await the arrival of the British Regulars, and the chaotic scene at Munroe Tavern when British Regulars occupied the building for a portion of the afternoon on April 19, 1775. Once the three historic sites were photographed, I’ve been able to work with Siobhan to highlight artifacts and embed audio and video clips which will allow visitors to gain a better understanding of what happened at each location.
The original goal of the project was to allow schools nationwide who are unable to make the pilgrimage to Lexington to experience what it would be like to walk through these historic houses. It was also to allow visitors with physical limitations the ability to access the second floors of our historic homes and enjoy content discussed during that portion of the tours. I had envisioned the entire project being launched in May (peak field trip season). However due to the current situation, the decision was made for us to release the tours earlier. Now everyone who would normally be coming to visit can access the historic houses from the comfort of their own homes. So far, the Buckman Tavern and Hancock-Clarke House tours are available (for free!) with the tour of Munroe Tavern set to be released in the coming weeks.
I don’t think I will ever be able to thank Scott and Siobhan enough for their work on this project. Siobhan has been a huge help as I worked my way through selecting artifact images, audio clips, and video clips. She has been ever-patient and quick to reply as text and formatting edits are sent to her almost daily (I’m sure she’s getting tired of seeing my name pop up in her inbox, haha). I’d also like to thank Siobhan’s daughter, Saoirse, for working so patiently with two amateurs during the video shoot for the introductory video she filmed, edited, and created for the project. See below for an introduction video from myself and Siobhan.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank my co-workers and Society volunteers for helping select artifacts and suggesting edits of the tours - your fresh eyes on the project were a huge help!
Finally, thank you to our visitors for their curiosity and passion for learning about Lexington and the history that Lexington Historical Society has to share. Without your curiosity and passion for interacting with our history, this project would never have been undertaken.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
A pervasive stereotype about history is the inherent seriousness of our ancestors. Look at an old painting or photograph and you'll see: unsmiling Victorians glare out at us, seemingly in eternal judgement of our frivolous modern ways. So stiff are many of these people that entire corners of the internet have been dedicated to poring over old images to confirm that the people in them are, in fact, still alive.
In reality, people a hundred or more years ago were just as colorful as today, even if they had different ideas about what made a good family photo. And archives like ours can be a treasure trove of spontaneity. We have been looking through ours to find some of the best. Each week during the museum closure, we will feature a new find.
Among these are a series of photos of one J. Chester Hutchinson. Born in 1883, Chester spent his teenage years playing in the Lexington Drum Corps and doing bike tricks, which have been memorialized in our archives (there are at least four photos of Chester posing on a bicycle). The lack of activity in downtown Lexington at the moment seems surreal, but in 1900 you could actually have a photoshoot in the middle of Massachusetts Avenue and not worry about being run over. The following photograph shows Chester showing off at the corner of Mass Ave and Depot Square (notice the Depot in the background).
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
"What should we call our quarantine content?" was not a question I was expecting to ask in the museum staff group chat this month, but we are all adjusting to new circumstances!
In a time when group gatherings are restricted to no more than 10, non-essential businesses are closed to the public, and millions are staying home, Historical Society staff have been brainstorming ways to bring the museum to you!
We will be compiling all of our digital content in one place, but I wanted to focus specifically on our exhibits in today's blog post. Read on to see some of your options for digital exhibits.
We have had an online exhibits page for more than 7 years, but it hasn't gotten a lot of traffic in the past. Now is the page's time to shine! You will find three years of past CVS exhibits and exhibits on Hancock–Clarke House archaeology, Lexington trade signs, Loring Muzzey's Civil War diary, and much more.
Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington opened on March 8 with a wonderful (and now illegal) preview event. It was open until March 12, then we unfortunately had to close this brand-new exhibit. In the interim, we will be working to populate the exhibit page with documents, photos, audio, and a batch of videos taken last week!
#Alarmed: 18th Century Social Media closed in December, but through the magic of 3D filming, it is available on our recently-released Buckman Tavern virtual tour.
Stay tuned for more content coming online in the next week or two. Happy Virtual Explorations!
-Stacey Fraser, Collections and Outreach Manager
We have been having an unseasonably warm winter this year, but 250 years ago, in 1770, there were feet of snow on the ground. The citizens of Lexington were tucked away in their farms, spinning flax by the fire, waiting for spring, and wondering what the next political upheaval might be. Just six months earlier, they had staged a spinning match on the town common to protest British imports, and had been boycotting tea since April.
Bostonians, a more politically diverse lot, were still coming to blows over which shops were selling imports and which were not. On February 22nd, a Loyalist from Woburn
named Samuel Richardson, who would have been well-known to many Lexingtonians, fired his musket into a crowd of protesters, killing ten-year-old Christopher Seider. Some would consider his death the first real casualty of the American Revolution. Then, less than two weeks later, a group of civilians got into an altercation with British soldiers, who fired into the crowd, killing five, in what became known as the Boston Massacre.
We do not have any surviving records of what Lexingtonians thought of these events when the news made it out here, but the reaction in general was swift, as copies of Paul Revere’s print of the Massacre began to circulate. One of these was put on display in the Wright Tavern in Concord, and John Buckman may have done the same in his establishment.
250 years later, however, the Boston Massacre is remembered as one of the most pivotal events leading up to the outbreak of war in 1775. Revolutionary Spaces, the new partnership between the Bostonian Society and Old South Meeting House in Boston, put together an incredible program on March 7 to commemorate the anniversary of this event. Over 100 reenactors spread out between the sites, showcasing a variety of daily activities in pre-Revolutionary Boston, such as a town selectmen’s meeting, a football game, and a ladies’ tea party.
As is often the case, I spent the day as a professional turncoat – for the afternoon portion of the program, I interacted with the public as Mary Saunders, the wife of a British soldier in the 14th regiment, introducing people to the Loyalist perspective. During the evening reenactment, I was Mary Cathcart, one of the many townspeople who scuffled with the soldiers, offering a distinctly different point of view.
This has definitely gotten me in the spirit for our upcoming 250th celebration in 2025 – not that far away now! The reenactors are already thinking ahead - doing research, making new clothing, and recruiting new soldiers into the ranks. Each Patriots’ Day morning is a uniquely moving experience, as the drumbeats of the British soldiers get closer and closer to the Green, but I imagine that the reenactment five years from now will be one not to forget.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.