November 30, 2016

A new voice On King Street!

Sira Dooley Fairchild has been working at the Bostonian Society since February as the Finance and Administrative Assistant.  In December, she will begin a new position as the Society's Collections Manager, where she will be a regular contributor to On King Street. Get to know Sira a bit in this introduction post!

Although I have written a few posts on this blog previously, I’d like to take a minute to formally introduce myself as the Society's new Collection Manager. The Bostonian Society's object holdings include some 6,500 artifacts and pieces of art. I am very excited to get started as the Collections Manager and I can’t wait to feature some of the most interesting objects from the collection.

Sira at the Durham Cathedral
I am a broadly-trained archaeologist, with experience digging and surveying on two continents. I received my Ph.D in archaeology from the University of Durham in 2013, where my research focused on early medieval religious change through an historiographical lens. But my very first experience with Collections Management began many years before, when I was just 12 years old and I began to volunteer at the Boston City Archaeological Laboratory, which at that time was located in the North End. Home to thousands of artifacts, many of them from the Big Dig, the lab had recently experienced a flood in one of their collections storage areas and many of the artifacts required cleaning, relabeling, and improved storage conditions.

Since then I have worked as a commercial archaeologist, digging my way across New England and the Deep South, done landscape survey in Iceland, and ground penetrating radar on an Iron Age oppidum in Gloucestershire in England. I have collected soil samples and C-14 samples and conducted GPS mapping. I have sifted through thousands of unnumbered photos from the 1953 excavation at Yeavering in Northumbria. I have written the site report for the site of Scutchamer’s Knob in Oxfordshire, after analyzing the entire collection of objects recovered from the site in earlier excavations. I am excited to be back in Boston, where this adventure began, and excited for the challenge of getting my head around this diverse collection. Please join me in exploring some of the most interesting objects from Revolutionary Boston as I begin to write about them for the blog.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

November 23, 2016

Days of Reflection: proclamations on view at the Old State House

Last year, we marked Thanksgiving by highlighting a special item from our archival collection - a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, issued by Governor John Hancock in November of 1783. This year, that proclamation is temporarily on display in the Old State House. It is paired with a Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer, also from 1783. Both of these proclamations were issued by Governor Hancock from the Council Chamber of the Old State House, just a few feet away from where they are currently on display.

A Proclamation for a Day of Public Fast and Prayer, 1783
MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343
I have previously written about the Thanksgiving proclamation but it is important to point out that the "Thanksgiving" it references differs from the holiday we know today. In 1783 Thanksgiving was not yet a nationally or a federally celebrated holiday. Instead, the governors of individual colonies would declare days of thanksgiving for various reasons, such a bountiful harvest or the successful completion of a significant event. Even though the exact function of the Thanksgiving proclamation is different from what we know today, we can connect to its intention. The proclamation urged citizens to assemble together and celebrate their blessings, which is something that many of us do this time of year.

Detail of MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343
It can be a bit harder for us to draw a connection to a proclamation for a day of fasting and prayer, especially in November and December, when many of us are doing the opposite of fasting. But the Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer is displayed with the Thanksgiving proclamation because the two have similar roots. Historically, days of fasting were typically set in the spring and summer, and days of thanksgiving were set in fall. During the Revolutionary War, the colonies set days of fasting and prayer throughout the year as a means of protest against the British. While similar to days of thanksgiving, a day of fasting called for more somber reflection and set aside a day for religious worship and abstaining from labor and recreation. The proclamation called for citizens to humble themselves, confess their sins, and implore forgiveness.

If you are in the Boston area, be sure to stop by the Old State House to take a close look at these two documents. And we hope you enjoy your day of Thanksgiving, but in moderation so you don't feel like celebrating a day of fasting afterward!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

November 3, 2016

Is Funding Tangible?

Education Associate Jennifer Guerin giving a tour on the Boston
Massacre inside the Council Chamber of the Old State House
On King Street usually features the work of the Bostonian Society's history and education staff, but there are many other departments hard at work here, often behind the scenes.  One of those departments is Development, which does the important job of handling memberships, donor relations, and securing funding for the Society and the Old State House.  In this post our Development Associate, Heather Rockwood, gives our readers a look into one of our funding sources and answers the question "is funding tangible?"

When non-profits raise money, can it be seen, felt? Is it tangible? YES! The Bostonian Society relies on the money raised through ticket sales to the museum, items purchased in our three Revolutionary Boston Museum Gift Shops, through membership and individual and corporate donors, and lastly through grant writing to foundations and the government.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) is a government agency that gives money to Massachusetts cultural non-profits. The people of Massachusetts and visitors from all over the world can see and feel the difference the MCC makes to the Old State House museum through the funds given to the Bostonian Society.

The funding the Bostonian Society receives from the MCC goes toward keeping the Old State House open and available for visitors. Without this vital funding, the Bostonian Society could not keep highly-trained and well-informed professional staff running the museum.  Funding from the MCC also goes towards this beautiful 300 year old building’s utilities costs. As you can imagine, keeping a large (by 18th century standards) building cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, with consideration towards all the important historical artifacts on display within the museum, can be a challenge!

Coming into the Old State House and viewing the galleries, taking a tour, or reading this blog allows everyone to see and feel the difference the MCC makes to the Old State House and the Bostonian Society.

By Heather Rockwood, Development Associate

October 25, 2016

Preserving a legacy: institutional archives at the Bostonian Society

Bostonian Society Charter, 1881
There have been many posts on this blog featuring some of the historical items in our archival collection, but the Society's archives also holds institutional materials. These documents and manuscripts tell the important story of the Bostonian Society, the organization that has cared for and maintained the Old State House since its founding in 1881. I've marked Archives Month this October by installing a display in the Old State House that allows visitors to take a peek into our institutional archives.

Currently on display through the end of the month are a bookplate from the early days of the Society's library, a pamphlet dating from 1882 with information about the Society's history and background, a menu from a celebratory dinner held in 1982 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Society's founding, and the original Bostonian Society charter - which I think is the most notable item on display.

The charter  marks the official incorporation of the Bostonian Society on December 2, 1881 and is the culmination of years of work by devoted Bostonians who were committed to saving the city's historical landscape.  The story begins when John Hancock’s family home on Beacon Hill was demolished in 1863, which served as the rallying call for the need for  historic preservation in Boston.  Consequently, the Bostonian Antiquarian Club was formed in May 1879 as a way to bring together like-minded gentlemen with an interest in history and antiquities. After functioning for two years as a volunteer club, the group felt they would be better able to advocate for the Old State House before city government if they were an incorporated society. Thus, the Bostonian Society was officially incorporated by the city in 1881 and became the steward of the Old State House, charged with maintaining it so that it would not reach a fate like the Hancock Manor.  The aim of the Society was to prevent the “reckless destruction of monuments of the past” and to provide a location to preserve, store, collect, and display artifacts related to Boston’s history.

Though available for use by researchers, some of our institutional records, like our charter and other founding documents, are over a hundred years old and must be handled carefully. We continue to add to the institutional archives on a regular basis, ensuring that the history of the Bostonian Society is accessible for future generations.  In addition to the documents on display this month, our institutional archives includes the Society's meeting minutes, annual reports, scholarly publications, acquisition ledgers, and exhibit plans. The Old State House itself stands as a testament to the work of the Bostonian Society, but our institutional archives share the stories of all that it has accomplished over the past 135 years.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 20, 2016

Archaeology Month: Lost and Found

October is Archaeology Month! Sira has previously looked at an item from our archives from an archaeologist's perspective, and today she takes a closer look at an object from our museum collection.

Archaeologists often study things that have been lost, dropped, or discarded. Unlike a painting or document that has been preserved intentionally, these items can tell us about the parts of the past that have been long forgotten.

One object that we hold in the collection has a fascinating backstory that allows us to imagine the lives of everyday people doing everyday jobs.  The card attached to this pin says “At one time while repairs were being made on the organ at Kings Chapel this old pin was found within the organ. This organ was procured from England in 1756 and paid for by private subscription. It cost 500 pounds sterling and was said to have been selected by the great Handel himself though the great master was at that time blind. This pin was found by the Boston organ builder, Mr. Henry E. Holland. 1886”

NN2008.0010 with penny for scale
While we know quite a bit about the life of Handel, for me the more interesting life to consider is that of the person who dropped this pin into the organ. Did it belong to one of the people who made the organ in England? Was it dropped into the organ during production, or afterwards? Did it fall in while the organ was being produced? During transport? After it arrived in Boston? What did it hold? Clothing? Sheet music? Did they notice it was missing, perhaps get down on hands-and-knees to look for it?

In this case, Mr. Henry E. Holland acted as an amateur archaeologist by preserving the pin and telling us as much about the circumstances of its discovery as possible. Knowing where and how it was found gives us a much deeper understanding of the object itself – the pin alone tells us very little, but the pin and the story together give us material around which to imagine a narrative.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Finance and Administrative Assistant