Lexington Historical Society’s Cronin Lecture Series has been part of our organization’s programming since 2003. Named for Cornelius “Neil” Cronin, an active community player and Lexington Historical Society member, the lectures in the Cronin series are often our best-attended programs of the year. We usually have three or four of these lectures, and they are held at the Depot or at Brookhaven. Each one draws about one hundred attendees of all ages, and the topics range from local history, world history, current affairs, and everything in between.
These lectures are very important as they help us fulfill our mission of serving as the steward of the town’s history through time and bringing that history to the community. Since the Cronin Lecture Series attracts so many people, most of them local, they give us an opportunity to have a large impact and present many areas of historical scholarship.
One of our goals is to be more proactive in our program planning, especially as it pertains to creating programming around historical anniversaries. The Cronin Lecture Series Committee is especially committed to this goal. This May, for example, the Cronin Lecture will feature Barbara Berenson discussing the women’s suffrage movement to mark the centennial of the Senate’s passage of the nineteenth amendment beginning its ratification process.
The Programs and Events committee of Lexington Historical Society aims to have four Cronin lectures per year: two in the winter, one in the spring, and one in the fall. The committee and programming staff are always looking for interesting topics and speaker suggestions for future Cronin lectures. Have you recently seen a great lecture that you would like to recommend? Send us an email at email@example.com! We keep a running list of speaker possibilities.
Since our Cronin lectures are donation-based, we are grateful for any donation given for this series: large or small, every bit counts! Donations to the Cronin Lecture Series help us pay for speaker fees and refreshments. To donate to the Cronin Lecture Series, please give at lexingtonhistory.org/support or mail a check with “Cronin Lecture Series” in the memo to:
Lexington Historical Society
PO Box 514
Lexington, MA 02420
For a list of upcoming events, please visit www.lexingtonhistory.org/events.
Our fall/winter exhibit in the windows of the Lexington CVS pharmacy looked at the eight men from Lexington who died in WWI. They were:
We - staff and volunteers at the Historical Society, family members of the deceased, and members of the WWI planning committee and town celebrations committee - looked for about nine months for photos of all of the men. Three images were in the LHS archives, two were donated by family members, one was at Harvard University, and two were missing.
Starting in 1919, the town of Lexington planted eight trees in its most revered public space, the Battle Green. These were memorial trees for the men who died in WWI. Over the years, some of the trees died and the markers at their bases were reassigned to other trees. This fall, any missing markers were replaced, thanks to the Lexington Department of Public Works and Monuments & Memorials Committee. We used photos of the copper tree markers as stand-ins for Aaron Ready and Timothy McConnell, but we hoped that images of them might be found while the CVS exhibit was up (October 2018 to April 2019).
Recently the family of Aaron Ready found an image that might be him. It is very similar to a painting they found that has been confirmed as Aaron in his childhood. But it might not be. The image could be of his brother or another relative with similar facial features.
We would love to say it is. Would love to blow up the image and paste it to his panel in the exhibit so we could see his face with his story before it all comes down on April 1. However. We cannot absolutely confirm that it is Aaron. so we will take the “responsible public history” route and not say it is. But why? Why be so precise and so cautious?
Museums are some of the most trusted entities in the United States. Support for that very broad statement here:
The public trust is one of the most valuable assets that a museum has. There have been recent instances of museums being perceived as breaking that trust and the consequences have not been positive. Our Archives Manager Elizabeth talks a little about that here.
In what some call a “post-truth” era, it is even more important that our communities believe that we in the museum only share information that can be verified via multiple sources. If we can’t do that, we may present the information (as in this post), but we are beholden to clarify the uncertainty of the facts presented.
All of that being said, here is an image that might be Aaron Ready, paired with a confirmed image of him. What do you think?
"Margaret was admired by many friends at different places and in various fields of activity. Yet her reticence seldom allowed those friends much knowledge of the breadth of capabilities of this lovely lady." Thus begins an informal biography of Margaret Arnold Ruth Kimball Harsh, as prepared by her husband, Charles, after her death on February 13, 1975. Though Charles' sentiment is beautiful, it couldn’t be any more understated. Margaret was a spunky and progressive powerhouse of a woman, and she has recently become a heroine of mine.
Last April, I was contacted the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Because the Phillips Library retains two other collections related to the Kimball family (Frank Reed Kimball Papers; Kimball Family Papers), Margaret's son, Richard, had recently donated a collection of Margaret's personal papers to them, as well. Margaret, however, had a very strong Lexington connection, especially in her early years. When asked if we would like to have this collection, I jumped at the chance.
Margaret Arnold Ruth Kimball was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 1, 1906, and her family lived in Lexington on Massachusetts Avenue. To start with, Margaret was a talented artist. She took courses at Boston University, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the Boston Museum Art School. She also became a student of impressionist artist Philip Leslie Hale (1865–1931).
Margaret was also involved in Lexington organizations. She became a member of the Lexington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) in 1926, and she was a founding member of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society in 1935.
As if these credentials weren’t enough, Margaret’s most noteworthy hobby was flying, as an early aviatrix. Her entry into the world of flight is one of my favorite anecdotes, as told by her husband in Margaret's biography:
"Back in Lexington, at a party in late October 1930, the lion of the evening was Hank Harris, a handsome young sportsman pilot who flew the weather plane for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hoping to attract his attention, Margaret expressed her desire to fly, and Hank laughingly challenged her to show up the next morning at the East Boston airport. She did, and Hank arranged a demonstration flight with Bill Tanner at the Curtis (sic) Wright hanger (sic). Before noon she had signed up with Tanner for flight instruction, launching the colorful career of aviatrix Peggy Kimball."
Margaret proceed to attend the Curtiss Wright Flying School in Mineola, New York. She became a member of the National Aeronautics Association in 1933, the Soaring Society of America in 1935, and the 99 Club in New England (also known as the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots founded in 1929 and based in Washington, D.C.). And all of this essentially accomplished because of her refusal to lose a dare to Hank Harris….
Her list of credentials goes on, though. She earned a transport pilot's license in 1933, her non-commercial glider pilot’s license in 1934, her radio telephone operator license in 1936. In 1937, she passed tests qualifying her for the then highest rating in aviation, the "Non-Scheduled Instrument Rating" (NSIR). The rating was awarded by the Department of Commerce, and it enabled her to fly when the weather was so severe that it stopped every other aviator who did not hold this rating. To qualify, Margaret had to take a test in blind flying and radio-beam flying while under a hood in a plane that kept her from seeing anything but the instruments. She became one of three American women with an NSIR rating. Amelia Earhart was another.
As the world around us continues to see advancements in technology almost every day, a big topic of discussion at history conferences has become how museums and historic sites can incorporate these new technologies into tours and interpretive approaches. In our effort to remain one of the premier historical destinations in Massachusetts and the country, Lexington Historical Society has been exploring a variety of ways to keep our history accessible for everyone. Over the years we’ve instituted films, audio clips and even full-fledged audio tours (available at Buckman Tavern in eight languages) as a way to make sure visitors are able to access Lexington’s rich Revolutionary War history through a method of interpretation that best suits their needs.
Over the past few months Lexington Historical Society has begun exploring how 3D virtual tour technology might provide a new avenue for visitors to experience historic Lexington. After a suggestion by a board member about partnering with Mass 3D Spaces, a local company that “specializes in creating immersive 3D interactive tours (powered by Matterport)”; LHS Executive Director, Erica McAvoy, and myself sat down with Scott and Siobhan Loftus-Reid to discuss how the Matterport technology they use for 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 re-enactors and volunteers, Lexington Historical Society staff along with Siobhan and Scott have been meeting at Lexington Historical Society’s 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 as well as the calming moments spent by Lexington’s militia in Buckman Tavern as they await the arrival of the British Regulars. Once the sites have been photographed and the tours prepared by Siobhan and Scott, Lexington Historical Society staff and our Interpretation Committee members are able to highlight artifacts, embed audio and video clips which will allow visitors to gain a better understanding of what happened at each location.
Once completed, the project will 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. These virtual tours will also allow visitors with physical limitations the ability to access the second floors of our historic homes and not miss out on any content discussed during that portion of the tours.
So far, we’ve been able to complete filming at the Hancock-Clarke House as well as Buckman Tavern with Munroe Tavern’s shoot being scheduled for later in the spring. Stay tuned!
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
The United States celebrates the third Monday in January every year in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pioneer of the 20th century Civil Rights movement. Like many towns across America, Lexington has its own King connection. He spoke to a sellout crowd of 1200 at Lexington High School on February 11, 1963, touching upon Lexington’s recent foray into the idea of civil rights activism. King said to the crowded room,
“The twin evils of housing and employment discrimination…stand as the greatest barriers we face, and if we could get rid of these two I’m sure that there would be progress in other areas.”
Lexington, attempting to reconcile its stature as the birthplace of American liberty with the racism still plaguing its idyllic liberal suburbia, still had a long way to go. So did the nation. On Patriot’s Day that year, King sat in Birmingham Jail, preparing to pen a letter.
Ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal, yet failed to include people of color in this decree, each generation of white Americans has come to the realization that these words ring false in our culture. In Lexington, it was the grandchildren of the revolutionary Patriots, some of whom were slaveholders, who led the fight in the Civil War era. These included our own Theodore Parker, along with local Ralph Waldo Emerson, who often preached in Lexington while working as a Unitarian minister. As the national dialogue around race peaked again starting in the 1950s, some locals began to take action once more. This was no easy task; like many towns in the area, Lexington had fewer than 20 black families. While some tried to move to the area, local realtors often discouraged them, either due to racism or the sympathetic idea that they would be lonely in such a white town. By 1962, a town civil rights committee was formed, along with a Good Neighbor Pledge, petitioning Lexingtonians to welcome and love their neighbors, regardless of race. 1500 people signed, although this represented only 5% of the town’s population.
It was to this awkwardly growing town that Dr. King spoke. Like speakers about inequality today, his words in the face of a larger crisis brought out the worst and the best in people. Over the next several years, Lexington faced several crises of civil rights, as well as an increasingly fervent backlash against discrimination. On August 31, 1963, a protest in favor of a black family broke out on the Battle Green following a housing discrimination case, exactly what King had warned of. Several locals eventually travelled to Alabama to join the Selma campaign, and in retaliation, a cross bearing racial slurs was burned on St. Brigid’s lawn, just days after Bloody Sunday. Hoping that more organized integration would help, Lexington eagerly joined the METCO program the next year, but even this was controversial and often violent.
In the decades since, Lexington has grown into a racially vibrant community, celebrating an annual MLK Day of Service. But all of us, including the Historical Society, can always evaluate where we could be doing better. The painful history of the Civil Rights movement, and of the black experience in Lexington from the days of slavery to today, can be difficult to grapple with. A heavily-white organization, often focusing on the glory of the American Revolution, can find it all too easy to overlook these parts of our history. This year, we were dismayed to find our events calendar again devoid of this subject. So as another Martin Luther King day comes and goes, with Black History Month on the horizon, we ask you, our readers, where do we go from here? How can we best celebrate black history in Lexington and foster relevant discussions, particularly in today's world where race is once again at the forefront of political debate? What would you like to see us do to better serve our community?
- Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
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
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.