Back in November I wrote a post about being thankful for our visitors and their understanding that Munroe Tavern had to be closed last season as construction of Lexington Historical Society’s Archives and Research Center was being completed. While the closure was not what any staff wanted, it did provide our Interpretation Committee the unique opportunity to reassess our interpretation of the historic tavern. Throughout the season last year, we discussed what stories were key to the house and what opportunities there were to make the experience at Munroe Tavern more immersive for our visitors. After months of discussions, we were ready to unveil the new interpretation at Munroe Tavern just in time for all of the fun events of Patriot’s Day weekend on April 13.
We’ve chosen to expand the story of the British Regulars on the first floor of the Tavern by including more first-person accounts of what the British troops experienced on April 19, 1775 through the use of audio clips that are playable in each room. Thanks to some diligent research done by Stacey Fraser, LHS Collections Manager, regarding what household items make the best blood stains, we’ve added some bloody bandages and even some broken furniture to the rooms on the first floor. The hope is that visitors will have a better sense of what the tavern might have looked like when the Munroe family returned home after the events of April 19th.
As visitors move up the stairs to the second floor of the tavern, they will reconnect with the Munroe family and have the opportunity to learn about the damage that was caused to the town of Lexington during the British retreat. Interpretation Committee member and guide Joan Paglicua and I had to opportunity to do some research at the Massachusetts State Archives and were able to locate the bills of damages that were submitted by Lexington residents following the Battle of Lexington, which are on display for visitors to study.
As always, our knowledgeable guides will be on hand roving through the tavern and interacting with visitors. They will be utilizing a roving interpretation method that has become increasingly popular in museums across the nation. This roving interpretation approach allows for the visitor to determine the path of the interaction and leads to a much more conversational tone between the visitor and the interpreter.
We have also begun to introduce objects from our teaching collection into the tavern interpretation. This will allow visitors to handle reproduction objects similar to items that would have been used by the Munroe family during their everyday normal lives or even the British Regulars during their brief visit to the Tavern on April 19th.
As I said earlier, we were able to open Munroe Tavern on April 13th and will continue to be open on weekends from 12 - 4 pm through Memorial Day. After that, the tavern will be open every day from 12 - 4 pm.
We’ll also be open for a special event on Wednesday May 22nd, as part of a Freedom’s Way Hidden Treasures. This event will be highlighting the Garden of Colonial Flowers outside Munroe Tavern. Members of the Lexington Field and Garden club will be on hand to discuss the garden and Munroe Tavern will be open from 10 am- 4 pm free of charge if you want to stop by for a quick visit.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
As many may already be aware … Lexington Historical Society will open its new Archives and Research Center in the fall of 2019! This is a very exciting time for the Society, and for me as the Archives Manager. This new building will allow us to have a handicapped accessible facility for researchers, as well as additional storage space with state-of-the-art features for our growing collections. The new processing lab will provide ample space for volunteers, interns, and staff to process collections, and the new reading room will give us additional space to exhibit some of our smaller, lesser known holdings as well as a relaxed atmosphere for conducting research.
This project is very exciting and will have so many positive effects on the Society. But it also requires that we move our archival collections from their current location at Hancock-Clarke House to the new storage space … which will be located across town behind Munroe Tavern. And this comes with its own set of challenges.
Many of our archival collections are extremely old and/or extremely fragile. The Society has been in existence since 1886, so we have done our best to improve storage conditions to align with best practices over time. Storing archival collections “properly” can be very expensive and a very time-consuming process, so to some degree we had to triage our needs. Because collections have been able to stay put in our current archives until now, it hasn’t necessarily been imperative that they be stored in a way in which they were safe to be moved. In many cases, as long as an item has been stored safely on a shelf and remains stable in its current state, that has been enough until now.
Now that everything needs to be moved across town, though, all items need to be stored properly and very securely. This will be one of the most challenging parts of planning required for this exciting move. In preparation, we closed the archives to researchers and the public as of April 15, with plans to reopen in the new space sometime in the fall. Now we have begun the rehousing process – and the archives have been covered from floor to ceiling with archival boxes, enclosures, and folders of various shapes and sizes.
Making sure that collections are housed properly is not a quick and easy project – and as I mentioned, it’s not a cheap one either. Check out the costs of just a few of the items that we have needed to order several of (or in some cases, several dozen):
And these are just a few of our more standardized items! We have hundreds of glass plate negatives and glass lantern slides in a variety of sizes, with each variation in size requiring its own set of enclosures and its own storage boxes. We have a large Bible collection, and many of the Bibles are in very fragile conditions and need their own oversize boxes in unique sizes. Every scrapbook or photo album needs to be stored (either on its own or with other similar items) in a way that it won’t have too much space to slide around in a box when lifted off of a shelf and put onto a moving truck. Oral history collections require boxes made to store cassettes, postcard collections require postcard boxes, posters and blueprints that have just been sitting on shelves until now require archival poster tubes so that they don’t get crushed in the move – and on and on. So, this is a big undertaking!
And we haven’t even discussed the necessary labeling of these boxes after the rehousing process has been completed! Each box needs to be labeled with a collection name, as well as a unique identification number (which denotes the collection number and the box number within the collection). This newly implemented ID system will serve the purpose of allowing us to individually identify each box that is involved in the move and to be able to account for each box as we inventory.
We are very excited to think, though, that after this move has been completed, most of our items will be stored safely and securely. Our boxes will be labeled clearly and will make collections easy to identify and sort through. We will feel much more comfortable giving researchers access to collections in the new reading room space, since we will now have a much clearer idea of what items are in each box in each collection. And when everything is all said and done and the hecticness of the move is complete … when we get to put these brand-new boxes with their properly housed materials on their brand-new shelving units in a brand-new building …. well, it is then that we will take a deeply satisfied sigh.
-Elizabeth Mubarek, Archives Manager
Lexington has always fought for its place in the national memory. Here, in the first quarter of the twenty-first century, we anticipate the construction of a beautiful new visitors’ center, equipped to receive guests from across the country and around the world. The challenge of telling our story – showing the world why Lexington mattered and matters – is not new, although it is certainly an evolving one. It began just in the wake of the events of April 19, 1775.
It was called the “Battle of Lexington” by the well-informed Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy. Seven of the eight men who died on Lexington Green that morning were initially buried in the old cemetery behind the current First Parish Church. It seems unbelievable that no monument was erected over that gravesite, though no evidence of what it may have looked like has surfaced.
Meanwhile, the people that had lived through the actions of that “ever-memorable” day started as early as 1777 to try and organize the building of a monument to the event. They told their stories often enough that, in 1789, the newly-elected George Washington paid a visit to the town. Washington noted that he dined at Munroe Tavern and was shown “the spot on which the first blood was spilt in the dispute with Great Britain." The event was important enough in town that the Reverend Jonas Clarke, who always recorded the day’s weather above anything, commented on the President’s visit in his journal.
Barely two years later, Reverend Clarke was on a committee selected by the town to approach the United States Congress asking for funds for the memorial marker, to be placed either over the graves of the slain as they still lay, or on the green where most of the action, as everyone could still remember, had taken place and where there was a recently vacated bit of raised ground. This attempt bore no fruit; Congress was made of men from all the States, and they each perhaps considered their own localities’ parts in the unfolding of this history just as significant as Lexington’s.
The town struggled through the 1790s with procuring funding for the project. In the end, the obscure stonecutter Thomas “Park” (possibly a relation of Captain John Parker) received a good sum from the early Massachusetts State government to execute the marker. His masterpiece is inscribed “Executed by Thos. Park.” The period after “Park” could indicate that “Thos.’s” surname was actually a punctuated “Parker.” At any rate this man’s original carving, now in the collection of Lexington Historical Society, is interesting.
Perhaps the whole thing was rushed, in a way. It does seem as though the people of Lexington wanted to set this memory in stone, literally, before the close of the eighteenth century. The words on this carving are those of the Reverend Jonas Clarke, who was still Lexington’s parson in 1799, when the memorial was finally completed on July 4 of that year. This date was certainly not by accident, although it is tempting to imagine that the original, tentative plan was for a ceremony on April 19 to mark the obelisk’s completion, but that the construction went over time and budget. In any event, the problems with Thomas Park’s craftsmanship on the finished product cannot but have become quickly apparent to onlookers.
The lines of text grow slightly more crowded as you read down the slate’s inscription, as if the stonecutter saw that he was running out of room. It uses oddly-placed underscores, even for the time, between Reverend Clarke’s ubiquitous exclamation marks. It also uses the long ‘s’ throughout, which will be familiar as the ‘s’ that looks like a lowercase ‘f’ – badly out of fashion by 1799. And worst of all, as Thomas Park cut the slivers of slate away, carefully shaping each letter, he managed to spell more than one word incorrectly.
The first line reads, “Sacred to Liberty and the Rights of Mankind”, or at least it should. The “I” is missing from the word “mankind”. A second spelling mistake can be found further down, when the tablet touts “the EVER MEMORABLE NINTENTH [sic] OF APRIL. Interestingly, our forebears have inserted carets where the missing letters should be – but other than that, the slate has suffered no graffiti or vandalism, unlike the obelisk itself, which is riddled with carvings from the nineteenth century.
In 1835, the whole memorial was rededicated, the bodies it mourned were moved into a grave beneath it, and a marble plaque, with the errors corrected, was installed in place of the original slate. The slate vanished from history until 1911, when a local family interred a loved one and discovered that the stone had been used as a seal to the family tomb, with the words facing inward, protected for countless decades from the elements. It was then given to Lexington Historical Society.
The immortal words of Reverend Clarke can be read in full from the modern image of our War Monument below. Even since so long ago, those of us that try to tell Lexington’s stories have created, sometimes made mistakes, and then reinvented.
-James Miele, Museum Shop Manager
Patriots’ Day is by far our busiest day of the year, with Buckman Tavern operating as the hub of activity that morning. The tavern is an integral part of the battle reenactment that takes place on the Green, as this is where the American militia spent their night before the battle, having been rallied together by Paul Revere and Captain John Parker. Members of the modern Lexington Minute Men occasionally spend the night in the tavern the night before the reenactment, wandering the rooms to make it look properly inhabited for any early-morning spectators walking past. A large group meets in the tap room in the early morning hours, taking in the historical ambiance, until it is time for them to face off against the British troops across the street.
The staff is on hand early as well, to prepare for the events of the day, and it is by far my favorite time to be in the tavern. Reenactors wander through the tavern and gather in the taproom, illuminated in the predawn hours by minimal light. It’s rare that the space is properly filled with historically-clothed people and seeing them huddled together in this historic place can make you feel like you’re seeing ghosts. You get a palpable sense of how a large group of men would have interacted with this space. The taproom seems to shrink in size when filled with men and weaponry, a testament to the crowding and fear that must have pervaded the building that morning. As the sound of the British drums get closer and louder, it is all too easy to imagine what it might have been like inside the house in the minutes before the battle.
The Buckman family and any tavern guests would have had a clear view of the fight from a number of windows, giving them a vivid, graphic view of the violence unfolding across the street. There were fewer trees in 1775 to obstruct the view, and no massive crowd of spectators. Instead, the colonists could only watch in horror as eight of their friends and neighbors were shot to death, right in their unimpeded sightline. Nowadays, the back window of the second floor is our best viewpoint, with the battle visible over the tops of the heads of those watching on the ground, and out of the way of the militiaman firing the first shot of the battle from the attic! It’s a completely unique viewpoint to watch the battle from. There are still times when I feel a new jolt of recognition that I am in a sacred space, getting an experience that few others do.
This year we are trying something new with this battle-viewing tradition. Every few years we like to get a newfound look at how we’re doing in terms of serving the community. Recently we have been surveying our visitors and locals to get their opinions on our institution. Anyone who completes the brief survey is entered to win a coveted spot in our favorite window on Patriots’ Day morning. For anyone who has been on the fence about taking the survey, this is your last chance! The drawing will take place later today, so be sure to let us know how you feel now, and you may be guaranteed a warm, dry Patriots’ Day morning.
UPDATE: the contest winner has been drawn and the survey is now closed!
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
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 firstname.lastname@example.org! 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
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.