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Article and photos posted courtesy of The Stoneham Sun

Historical society hosts open house

By Nadine Wandzilak/Correspondent

The Stoneham Sun, Tue Oct 16, 2007

Stoneham - Donna Weiss and Mary Marchant aren’t swashbucklers like Indiana Jones, the fictional movie archeologist.

But Weiss, Marchant and a group of other residents dove into a treasure trove of local artifacts right here in town, not down in a subterranean chamber but up in an area attic.

And members of the Stoneham Historical Society put finds from their “excavation” on display this past Sunday at an open house at the group’s museum on William Street.

The first exhibit to greet visitors as they entered the room was a poster on the shoe industry, the major industry of the town for its first 150 years. Ironically, the door stop itself was also historic: a heavy iron shoe form, or last, Marchant explained, used when, once upon a time, shoes were repaired, not so quickly tossed out in favor of a new pair.

A camera dating to the late 1800s sat on one table, along with a glass negative and slides that show local landscapes and a group of women in long dresses of their day.

A police log containing cursive, handwritten entries from 1889 to 1921 documented arrests made for drinking and for “gaming on the Lord’s Day.” The fine for gambling — $1.

A much newer, but still more than 50-year-old photograph of people waiting in line downtown for butter accompanied a rationing coupon from World War II. “How many remember when gasoline, sugar, butter and meat needed to be rationed to us?” asked the exhibit text.

“I feel like I’m peeking into somebody’s window,” said Stoneham Historical Society member Gail Melkonian, as she leafed through the old police log, stopping when an entry caught her eye.

Weiss, the group’s president, said the society has many artifacts it can’t put on regular display, partly because its space is limited. She said as a result a committee delved into the materials and decided to display treasures from the past 100 years they thought would draw and interest visitors to the open house.

Betty Whelan holds a blue dress made from paper in the 1960s, while Mary Marchant shows off a silk dress from the 1920s. (Photo by Mark Teiwes)

 

An antique record player played the ‘Three O’clock in the Morning’ waltz during the Stoneham Historical Society’s open house Oct. 14. (Photo by Mark Teiwes)

Weiss said they included materials about the police and fire departments, Stone Zoo, town celebrations and World War II. She said the society usually holds an open house at least once a year.

Looking at the artifacts shows “what was important, what the rules were” at a particular time, Weiss noted.

“Archaeology above the ground” is how Joan Quigley, a member of the town’s Historical Commission, described the displays.

Quigley came to the open house to learn more about the town and the “minutia” of people’s lives, the details of how they lived. She said she has used the society’s archives to research past town resident Jonathan Green – for whom Green Street is named – for a film to be made by the Historical Commission.

Stephen Rotondi, another member of the commission, came to the open house as well. He said the Historical Commission and Historical Society usually meet together in May, Preservation Month in the commonwealth.

The Historical Society is a private organization; the Historical Commission, a town board.

Another display included articles and photographs from the town’s 200th anniversary in 1925 and its 250th in 1950. For the 200th, residents put on a play, with performers in costume, recounting the town’s history, according to the documents.

“I doubt we could do that today,” Weiss said, referring to the number of people involved in the anniversary activities.

Marchant, who has been curator at the museum for many years, said the group of “archaeologists” that put last Sunday’s displays together had a ball examining and choosing materials. She said she didn’t realize how much local history materials the society had in storage.

Marchant added every time items get brought out, she learns something more.

While society members who staffed the displays were enthusiastic, public turnout was low, even though the group had advertised it in a modern medium: the Internet. Maybe it was the weather, ideal this weekend after much rain, to rake leaves, or sports events, several suggested.

Among those that stopped by was Lynn Hildenbrand, coordinator of the Botume House Visitor Center at the Middlesex Fells Reservation. She said she came for a very specific purpose — looking for a visual image of Stone Zoo for a permanent exhibit at the Botume House.

“A postcard on display has potential,” said Hildenbrand, adding she’s been dying to get into the museum.

Curt Nitsche came to the open house Sunday from Reading. He said he has his own collection of artifacts including shoe-making tools, handed down through his family.

Nitsche said his wife, Sally Lord, a former Stoneham resident, has done exhibits on shoe making, while his son built him an old-style shoe shop at his home.