It’s the end of September, and I have been thinking about Halloween for a while now. There’s something about the changing leaves and shortening days that make this time of year perfect for this holiday. And, having grown up going to high school within the bounds of a 17th century village named Salem, I got my fair share of Halloween history as a child.
The Salem witch hysteria never made it all the way down to Lexington, although there were a handful of people in Woburn and Billerica who were thrown in jail. I often wonder what the citizens of Lexington (then called Cambridge Farms) thought about what was happening. At the time, we were in the process of building our first meeting house and newly appointed minister Benjamin Estabrook may have felt that he was in over his head.
But that doesn’t mean that people in Lexington didn’t believe in witches or the supernatural, and it took a long time for some of these beliefs, and the traditions associated with them, to die out. One of the most popular items on the tour of the Hancock-Clarke House are a series of shoes, neatly laid behind the plaster wall of the minister’s study. There is an astonishing variety in the little collection: shoes for men and women, adults and children, leather and wool. All well-worn, and very deliberately placed there, hidden away during the house’s construction.
These are called “concealments”, and are thought to be a good luck charm, a way to ward off any evil spirits that might be inhabiting your new home. Sometimes they are accompanied by “witch bottles” full of other magic charms to ward off specific evildoers. The Northampton Museum in England has compiled an index of nearly 2,000 concealments (including ours), which is set to be made digitally accessible next year.
These shoes would have been placed in the wall during the construction of the Hancock-Clarke House in 1737, 45 years after the infamous witch trials. Not so long a time, actually! It is easy for us to think of our Age of Enlightenment patriots having any connection with the superstitions of the past, but they were only a generation or two removed from that fading world (Ben Franklin’s aunt Bethshua famously took off her shoe and threw it at Martha Corey’s head during her trial). Superstitions and folk magic tend to linger for centuries.
By the mid-18th century, however, most on both sides of the Atlantic were trying to distance themselves from the beliefs of their ancestors by putting a stop to any further superstitious persecution. This news article from 1751 is a good example, reporting on the “barbarity” that ensued in England when John and Ruth Osborne, “inoffensive people near 70 years of age” were accused of witchcraft and tortured by their neighbors, leaving Ruth dead.
An addendum to the article proudly revealed that of the entirety of the mob, 29 members were subsequently being tried for murder. One of the men was eventually executed.
- Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
Lexington Historical Society is much more than a room with piles of old documents and artifacts; it is a vibrant organization, active all year round, with an engaged staff and volunteer base. To give you an idea of just how active Lexington Historical Society is, here are some fun facts!
• 20,000 people walk through the doors of our museums
• LHS presents an average of 50 public programs
• An average of 2,500 students participate in education programs at our museums
• We receive about 100 research inquiries
So how do we fund our extensive operations?
Many people think that we receive funding from the town or National Park Service. The truth is, though, we are a private non-profit organization. While we sometimes receive grants from a local or state government entity, we do not receive regular funding from any one source.
Each year, we rely on income from the sale of our museum tickets, membership dues, our two appeal campaigns in the fall and spring, and various fundraisers throughout the year such as our golf tournament and Relinquished Treasures sale.
A New Initiative
We recently began planning for an additional fundraiser in the fall, with the goal of it being our major fundraiser of the year. The theme for this year’s fundraiser is “Mid-Century Marvels: Bauhaus and Beyond.” Our aim is that, through sponsorships, ticket sales, and advertisement space in the events’ program books, the Mid-Century Marvels fundraiser will help us close out 2019 with a bang, poised for growth and success in 2020.
This series of events is scheduled to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the Staatliches Bauhaus, a design school that began in 1919 in Germany that influenced art and architecture all over the world. Lexington is home to hundreds of mid-century modern homes, so the Bauhaus anniversary has strong ties to Lexington’s history.
Mid-Century Marvels Events
The first event takes place this Thursday, September 12 at the Gropius House in Lincoln. The evening begins with wine and hors d’oeuvres on the patio behind the house, and ends with a special tour by Gropius House staff with interesting collections pieces on display. The space is very limited, and there are only a few tickets remaining! For tickets, please call our office at (781) 862-1703.
After the Gropius House tour there will be a tour of the Gamota’s house (now sold out) showing mid-century modern art, a Cronin Lecture by Sasaki Associates discussing the life and work of the late Lexington resident Hideo Sasaki, and a cocktail party in a mid-century modern home in Shaker Glen. For information on the Sasaki lecture and the cocktail party, please visit www.lexingtonhistory.org/events.
Support from Individuals and Businesses
The individuals and businesses who sponsor these events know the value of Lexington Historical Society and want to support our important work. Many of our supporters return year after year and we also hope to engage new individuals and businesses each year to enhance our ties with the community and allow us to do more for Lexington and for our visitors from around the world.
I would like to thank the following individuals and businesses who are sponsoring Mid-Century Marvels: Bauhaus and Beyond:
• Christina Gamota
• George Gamota
• Hisel Flynn Architects
• Janovitz & Tse
• Lester E. Savage Real Estate
• Kane Investments
• Reside, Inc.
• Seasons Four
The Mid-Century Marvels: Bauhaus and Beyond events are crucial to Lexington Historical Society’s end-of-year fundraising goals. Without fundraising, our organization would not be able to care for our collections, welcome thousands of students, or open our museums’ doors to thousands of visitors. Please consider supporting us through our Mid-Century Marvels Initiative by joining us at an event or making a donation at www.lexingtonhistory.org/financial-donations. Thank you for your support!
-Erica McAvoy, Executive Director
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.