The Concord Museum ~ Philosophers and Revolutionaries

Concord Museum 052Without hesitation, it can be said that no other town in Massachusetts can boast of being the remarkable birthplace to both the Revolutionary War and the resting place of Transcendentalism. Both events represent an evolutionary shift in self-actualization both as a nation and a way of life. Several weeks ago, Jared Bowen, reporter for WGBH TV, Greater Boston, aired a segment on the Special Exhibition: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation & the Shot Heard ‘Round the World: April 19, 1775. This is one of several exhibits on display at the Concord Museum in Concord MA. Long fascinated by this event, it was only a matter of days before I traveled to and toured the museum. The Concord Museum may be considered a first stop in town and a preparation for those visitors in search of forming deeper intricate connections to our Revolutionary War, the famed Writer’s and Philosophers of Concord and day to day life in the 1700 and 1800s.

The museum is laid out as a series of period rooms the visitor travels through. The front foyer is a soaring space of tranquility and light. The tour stats with a 15 minute video welcoming the visitor to the exhibit. Each room represents a different part of the history of the town. There is an outdoor courtyard and a small garden exhibit. The gift shop is charming and offers a wide variety of jewelry, literature, teas and keepsakes for everyone. This is a brief review of the museums exhibits and some of its contents.

Transcendentalism

This was a movement and belief crafted ever so sincerely from assembled persons of literary and philosophical note in and around this area in the 1830’s. From the Concord Museum:

Transcendentalism combined religion, philosophy, mysticism and ethics. Transcendentalists believed that:

  • All living things were bound together
  • Humans were essentially good
  • Insight was more powerful than experience as a source of knowledge

Those familiar with the Tao, will recognize many related beliefs and similar practices including reflecting that everything a person wishes to understand about the complex reality of life and life around us is to be explained by observation of the natural world. By recognizing that nature including the outer space of the solar system is the source of all inspiration and contemplation of such will bring about a state of equanimity. These are my personal observations having paid close attention to both noble beliefs.

The key players who practiced Transcendentalism in Concord are Nathanial Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Louise May Alcott and Margaret Fuller. All of them were well educated, traveled and from established families in Massachusetts Bay Colony. All came to Concord to write, reflect and commune with like minded souls.

Concord Museum 008Emerson’s Study

The exhibit for Ralph Waldo Emerson is essentially the original furnishings from his study. The Emerson House is directly across the street from the museum’s location. The room reflects his personality to a T. There was even an odor of stale paper and woodworms coming from the room. The fussiness of the carpet, the numerous photographs and prints of friends and admirers on the walls and the largess of the book collection sends a message down the generations as to who he was. I do believe he read every book on the shelf. He was the ultimate intellectual and advanced the idea of individual freedoms bound in Nature. Honestly, he is too brainy for me but devotees will love the experience of peering into his private study. It’s him.

Thoreau Gallery

Devotees of Henry David Thoreau ought to make this a must stop on their tour through Massachusetts. After a visit to Walden Pond, I highly recommend coming to the Concord Museum Thoreau Gallery. The stark contrast between the Emerson and the Thoreau artifacts will tell its own story. Could two people be more different in outlook and the expression of Transcendentalism? Perhaps not but it is well-known they were dear friends and collaborators all their days.

On display are the desk, chair and bedframe from the cabin. Also the walking stick, snow shoes, and telescope. These are his “tools”. These objects followers will know are the essentials of which he spoke of often. The one other object I did not know of was the Aeolian harp. While I have read of this ancient instrument, I did not realize it had earthly form still.Concord Museum 012

From the Concord Museum:

Aeolian Harp – Named after the Greek god of the wind, an Aeolian harp is a musical instrument placed in a window and played by the wind. Thoreau’s workmanship is evident in this rosewood harp which he fitted for his window.

Not only did he have this, he made it himself. I tell you my heart paused to wonder what sound could be heard from this ancient instrument for the winds. Thoreau is brother earth, the harp is sister wind. He loved her so well that she was welcomed into his cabin by her own song. His poem:

Rumors from an Aeolian Harp

There is a vale which none hath seen,
Where foot of man has never been,
Such as here lives with toil and strife,
An anxious and a sinful life.
There every virtue has its birth,
Ere it descends upon the earth,
And thither every deed returns,
Which in the generous bosom burns.

There love is warm, and youth is young,
And poetry is yet unsung.
For Virtue still adventures there,
And freely breathes her native air.

And ever, if you hearken well,
You still may hear its vesper bell,
And tread of high-souled men go by,
Their thoughts conversing with the sky.

This review is not impartial. To me this man is above all others in thought, action and intention. I had forgotten how much I esteemed his life and activities until I saw the harp. Only Thoreau would have honored nature thus.

Concord Museum 036Early and Mid-1700s Rooms ~ 1800s Bed Chamber & Dining Parlor

The rooms are remarkable for their attention to detail. Each piece has its own card with provenance. Provenance establishes the history of a piece including place of origin, materials, cost, sales receipts, owners and donors. A sense of life in a well-appointed home of the period can be found in these rooms. No detail is left out including tableware, fabrics, pottery, coins, quill pens, and wallpapers. It’s a dream for any collector or person curious about daily life. The rooms are arranged as they would have been in there day.

The Shot Heard Round the World, April 19, 1775

This was the exhibit I was drawn to see. Assembled in the upper galleries are a vast collection of artifacts from this day. Many of the objects have been borrowed for the occasion so as to give the viewer an hour by hour account of the activities of the people of Concord on April 18 and 19.

The first piece the visitor will see is the lantern. One of the pair, (the 2nd is lost) of original lanterns…”if the British went out by Water, we would show two lanterns in the North Church Steeple, if by land one as a signal” In the chronicle of the Revolutionary War, what artifact could be more symbolic than this humble, time worn lantern. This light, this signal set Paul Revere in motion and the rest is American history.

The room contains the drum of William Diamond from the battlefield at Lexington. There are numerous muskets, powder horns, letters, muster sheets, documents, maps and notes saved for posterity from that fateful day. There is a collection of flints found at the site of the shot heard round the world at the Old North Bridge. To fire a musket took an elaborate preparation of the powder and gun. A piece of flint was used to spark the powder. These were used by the minutemen that day repelling the British marching over the bridge to raid the town armory. The museum provided a guide directly in this space to speak with and fully understand the significance of the collection and its place in American Revolutionary history even my query on what would have been the home address of Paul Revere was answered, dear reader he was Paul Revere of Boston, in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.

If the traveler comes by Concord, a stop at the Concord Museum is to be penciled in for the day. This is a not to be missed opportunity. The special exhibit is on display through September 21, 2014.Concord Museum 031

 

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The Concord Museum ~ Daniel Chester French

One of the must stops in Concord MA for visitors is the Concord Museum. The museum is, of course, dedicated to the events and people who have made this town a fascinating place to explore and is indeed, “the gateway to Concord’s history!”

The reason for my visit on a warm, showery Sunday morning, was to tour through the Special Exhibition Galleries – The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation and The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: April 19, 1775.

The design of the museum leads the visitor through a series of galleries on the way up the stairway to a room at the top and a surprise exhibit dedicated to Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931). On display were several well-known pieces of sculpture including the Minute Man and Mourning Victory. However, it was the glass case containing the figurines that won all my attention.

The reader may be aware of my fascination with owls. Here in the case, are three carvings that are more than delightful to admire. They are of Parian porcelain. The description for the viewer is as follows:

Concord Museum 033Reveries of a Bachelor (Lonely Owl)

About 1871

Here, a sole owl sits upon a roost similar to the one seen in Matchmaking. The owl embodies the human sentiment of loneliness, echoing an image from the 1850 book Reveries of a Bachelor by Donald Grant Mitchell.

 

 

The pair read: MatchmakingConcord Museum 030

Plaster and Parian porcelain 1913 and 1871

The first being given to his brother William, “Williams and Everett have at last issued the “owls” and there is now a copy in each of their windows.”

For 1913 silver wedding anniversary party at Chesterwood French had his studio assistant cast in plaster, “a lot of the love-making owls….and gave each of the lady guests one.”

A Visit to the Old Manse ~ Concord MA

The Day I Became an American

The definition of what it means to be an American can be a point of confusion for every person who claims to be a citizen of theseHawthorne United States. As a nation of immigrants, the majority of us can trace our ancestry to a distant shore. The Native Americans have a wholly different understanding of immigration with the disastrous outcome for an entire race of people. Newly arrived immigrants come here for the hope of a better life while coming to terms with what has been left behind. Truly, some may spend the remainder of their lives with a foot in both worlds. Immigrants as well as second, third and fourth generation Americans often apply a label to their identity in order to establish roots of ancestry. This is an important factor in socialization. Having been raised in a 2nd generation home, I can identify by association of place to being an American confused along with a thread of connection to the founding ancestry. This is about awakening and grounding into what it means to understand I am an American. Everything changed the day I read Nathanial Hawthorne’s Introduction to “Mosses from an Old Manse”, “The Author Makes the Reader Acquainted with His Abode”. A Collection of Short Stories published in 1846. He spoke directly to the reader in a prose of such beauty and depth that I melted into it. Across the years, I felt his presence come up off the page and speak as if to me. He took me literally into his heart, home and to that place, our most sacred ground, where I became a full-blooded American.

Identity Obscured

I was born in the United States and have not moved too far from my home base of Massachusetts (MA). I am a 2nd generation American whose ancestors left Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. My grandparents came here born out of a desire for adventure and change. Tired of living in a country that often times felt the boot of invaders trampling on to glory, they came to America for a better life.

I am from Worcester, MA. A place named for the sister city of Worcester, England and a Commonwealth named for the tribe that once lived here. We are descendant of British settlers landing at Plymouth in 1620. We keep the name of the original inhabitants alive. Really, it is difficult to not notice the pairing of English and Native American names side by side. In my area alone we have Quaboag, Podunk, Tantasqua, Wickaboag, Nipmuc, Hammonasset, Quinsigamond, etc… A foot in two worlds. Worcester was a manufacturing city and is notable for the inventiveness of Robert Goddard, anti-establishment rhetoric of Abby Hoffman and the Houdini of the Hardwood, Boston Celtic player Bob Cousy. I lived in a house with a small yard surrounded by smoking traffic, three deckers and bustling immigrants. Worcester is known to be a city of immigrants. If there is a people on the move, they may come here.

Our LadyWorcester is a city of seven hills. The neighborhood I came from is referred to as Vernon Hill. In its day, the area was notable for its Americans descended from Polish and Lithuania immigrants. The foundation of the community is the Lady of Czestochowa Catholic Church. The imagery of Mary is strikingly different from the anglicized version. There are many legends associated with this portrait. She is a woman of beauty, youth, wealth and power. There is nothing passive about her. She would not be burned or lost to nonbelievers. A hint to the reader of how strong the identity to the motherland still is can be conveyed simply. In attendance at a funeral in this old church in 2013, in the vestry hangs a picture of Pope John Paul. He died in 2005. He has been replaced by two (2) popes. Yet, this church still honors his ancestry and identifies with him through it. This is how strong the confusion can be to place of identity. The faith is based in a foreign church, not the American Catholic Church but that of Poland.

The local markets cater to ethnic tastes. Worcester boasts several authentic markets well worth shopping in for Vietnamese, India, Mediterranean and Italian goods. The identity with where the ancestors came from is strong. I had early learning in Polish language and can still read a little. Apparently, I still speak with a slight accent as two people I recently met from Russia asked, where was I from? Rather than, you are an American. I was tied to Poland by my relatives, neighborhood, church and people around me. We all lived in this confusing place where identity to the old country came first often.

The Old Manse ~ The Author Makes the Reader Acquainted with His Abode

This may sound odd, but I did not realize I was an American first until my mid-thirties. I became fascinated with the writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) formerly of Salem MA. He is a notable classic short story writer from the Transcendental Period (1820-1830) in American literature and famous for many writings including “House of Seven Gables”, “Rappuccini’s Daughter” and “The Scarlett Letter”. Based on reading his, “The Author Makes the Reader Acquainted with His Abode,” and particularly this

“The glimmering shadows, that lay half-asleep between the door of the house and the public highway, were a kind of spiritual medium, seen through which, the edifice had not quite the aspect of belonging to this material world.”

I have never recovered from this sentence. He is describing the space between the street and front door of the old house. One does not simply walk to the front door, one passes through the veil between the worlds along the way. Hawthorne had a genius with lyrical prose. As a writer, he had a sensual, enveloping style of storytelling that wrapped the reader into his world and that of his characters.Old Manse

He is my knight. And, I paid my respects. I visited the Old Manse in Concord MA within only a few days of reading this text. The beginnings of the War of Independence are visible from the backyard. There I was standing on the bridge and reading the plaque stating the significance of what happened here so many years ago. Standing on the battlefield, it seems outrageous that folks could have formed the notion of living without foreign rule and acted on it. The rebellion does seem to have been an extraordinary occurrence in the history of civilization. The fact that it succeeded is even more astonishing. There is a spirit about Concord that I found enlivening. The energy of independence is in the air. Here I realized I was a citizen of this nation and proud of it.

My parents and the community passed on a strange awareness of being here but from somewhere else. Because I was surrounded by other people who thought the same, I didn’t understand that I was leading a confusing existence until Concord. I lacked a personal connection with America as an American until that moment. Odd too, that I loved the Red Sox and spent many a happy hour at Fenway Park. I love the Boston Pops and have attended the July 4th celebration on the Charles River in Boston. Yet, I was confused by my allegiance. The sense of release from past prejudice has been a blessing.

Here is the description of the battlefield from Hawthorne, it lays only feet away from the Old Manse.

“Come; we have pursued a somewhat devious track, in our walk to the battle-ground. Here we are, at the point where the river was crossed by the old bridge, the possession of which was the immediate object of the contest. On the hither side, grow two or three elms, throwing a wide circumference of shade, but which must have been planted at some period within the threescore years and ten, that have passed since the battle-day. On the farther shore, overhung by a clump of elder-bushes, we discern the stone abutment of the bridge. Looking down into the river, I once discovered some heavy fragments of the timbers, all green with half-a-century’s growth of water-moss; for, during that length of time, the tramp of horses and human footsteps have ceased, along this ancient highway. The stream has here about the breadth of twenty strokes of a swimmer’s arm; a space not too wide, when the bullets were whistling across. Old people, who dwell hereabouts, will point out the very spots, on the western bank, where our countrymen fell down and died; and, on this side of the river, an obelisk of granite has grown up from the soil that was fertilized with British blood. The monument, not more than twenty feet in height, is such as it befitted the inhabitants of a village to erect, in illustration of a matter of local interest, rather than what was suitable to commemorate an epoch of national history. Still, by the fathers of the village this famous deed was done; and their descendants might rightfully claim the privilege of building a memorial.

Old NorthA humbler token of the fight, yet a more interesting one than the granite obelisk, may be seen close under the stonewall, which separates the battle-ground from the precincts of the parsonage. It is the grave–marked by a small, moss-grown fragment of stone at the head, and another at the foot–the grave of two British soldiers, who were slain in the skirmish, and have ever since slept peacefully where Zechariah Brown and Thomas Davis buried them. Soon was their warfare ended;–a weary night-march from Boston–a rattling volley of musketry across the river;–and then these many years of rest! In the long procession of slain invaders, who passed into eternity from the battle-fields of the Revolution, these two nameless soldiers led the way.”

These are my stories of old. I am of this heritage and while I may carry remnants of the old world in my name and manner, I honor that past, but prefer to live in this present at home. In this, the only home I’ve ever known.