Museum Impressions, John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum

Added to Medium, November 29, 2018

In previous posts, I wrote about museums I have visited during my childhood. This time I have written about a museum I visited while I was in college and my cousin was visiting from Italy, and she wanted to see places and museums in the Boston and Cape Cod area during her visit.

Growing up I went to Hyannis with my sisters to visit our maternal grandparents in the town of Centerville. My sisters, my cousins, and I would spend time at our grandparents’ house playing dress up in our grandmother’s old clothing, visit the Penny Store to buy candy, and went to the beach to feed seagulls. At least one of the times we drove around Hyannis, we passed by the beach area where the Kennedys sailed their boat. It was not until I was in college that I knew of and was able to visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. I remember walking through the exhibits and seeing the legacy that Kennedy had left behind especially in Hyannis.

It has been a while since I havevisited the museum, and I decided to explore their website to see what theyhave been up to since I was there. A number of exhibits were placed in themuseum over the years and a couple of current exhibits are Robert F. Kennedy: Ripple of Hope and Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe. The Robert F. Kennedy: Ripple of Hope exhibit, that is assembled incollaboration with RFK Human Rights Foundation, highlights an impromptu speechhe gave before a large group of distraught onlookers the night Martin LutherKing, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968 just weeks after Kennedy announced hisbid for the presidency. The Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe exhibit features intimate,behind-the-scenes images of John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and theirchildren, Caroline and John, taken by Kennedy’s personal photographer. Inaddition to the exhibits, the Museum offers a number of educational programsespecially for children. 

The Museum’s education programs teach students from preschool through high school the value of civic engagement by beginning with President Kennedy’s legacy and then organize age-appropriate experiences, infused with critical thinking skills, a key tenet of civic engagement, into the lessons. In the preschool program, preschoolers from Cape Cod Child Development Program/Head Start have learned the importance of family and community. Early elementary students participated in lessons with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) theme. Fourth and fifth graders have learned to “use their voice” in their lessons to communicate with local, state, and national officials. Meanwhile, middle school students learn how the Constitution impacts the presidency, through both the election process and the president’s responsibilities. High school students participate in the Federal Budget Simulation, working in collaborative groups to organize and defend their funding of the fourteen discretionary accounts in the federal budget. There are other programs that are outside of the school programs offerings.

For instance, the Museum has the Art Curator Program and Camp Kennedy. TheArt Curator Program, with four participating high schools, allows students toshowcase their knowledge of President Kennedy’s legacy through art, with piecesthat they create and then showcase in an exhibition. Camp Kennedy, which isheld in the summer, is a one day camp open to students who will begin grades 2,3, and 4 designed to engage the youth of our country in exploring Kennedy’slegacy of leadership. The lessons in the camp help campers develop criticalthinking skills, civic engagement, and science, technology, engineering,mathematics and art (STEAM). John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum offers a variety ofpublic programs that are relevant to the mission and Kennedy’s legacy.

Museum programs at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum include lectures, screenings, book signings, receptions, live webcast viewings, family events and exhibit openings. A few examples of upcoming events include “JFK and the Cold War: Video Presentation of speaker Dr. Sergei Khrushchev” which is a screening and discussion of the Video Presentation of speaker Dr. Sergei Khrushchev, son of former soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, discussing JFK’s and Khrushchev’s relationship, and challenges of the cold war and their relevance to today. Another example is “Brian Murphy, Author of Adrift: Lecture and Book Signing” which is a lecture and book signing event with Washington Post Journalist and author Brian Murphy who will discuss about and sign copies of his new book Adrift: A True Story of Tragedy on the Icy Atlantic and the One Who Lived to Tell about It. The next example is “The Cahoons and the Kennedys: Discussion” which discusses the Cape Cod folk artists, Ralph and Martha Cahoon and the Kennedys’ interest in collecting their works. The Museum is also working on an expansion project to create more space in the museum for its programming.

The renovation project includes construction of a 50-seat state-of-the-art auditorium and media room with a 100 seat community room and configurable tables and chairs that will support Museum-wide programming. On their website, they ask for donations that will support the transformation of the Museum’s antiquated lower level, contemporary educational curricula, advanced media capabilities, and collection and artifact growth. By accomplishing the previously listed goals for the renovation, the Museum is working to create a modern venue where they can better serve the community and continue their work to inspire active and informed civic engagement thereby ensuring the JFK legacy, and the Museum, remain relevant and sustainable for generations to come. There has been a lot of changes since I last visited the museum, and I hope this museum continues to move forward in educating visitors about civic engagement and Kennedy’s legacy.

What are your impressions of the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum?

John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum: https://jfkhyannismuseum.org/

Museum Impressions, Salem Witch Museum

Added to Medium, October 4, 2018

In honor of the month of Halloween, I am going to give my impressions about the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This museum is another one of the museums I have visited during my childhood but my memory of this experience is limited because I did not see a whole lot of the place at the time. I did visit the museum years later with the Historical Society club at Western New England College (now University). In addition to these memories, I will also give my impressions of the Salem Witch Museum based on what I observe on their website to see how much has changed since I visited.

When I first made the visit to the Salem Witch Museum, it was in the 1990s and I was with my parents and my sisters. We waited in the lobby of the museum until the group we were in was able to sit in the auditorium to learn about the Salem Witch Trials. As my family waited for our turn, I remember looking through the brochures and saw pictures of the statues depicting the townsfolk. I was scared since in my imagination I thought that the creepy statues were going to move around in the dark room. Once our group was able to go in after the previous group left, I did not want to go in so one of my parents went into the gift shop with me until the rest of the family joined us. It was not until I was in college when I returned to the Salem Witch Museum.

The Historical Society club I was a member and treasurer of decided to visit the town of Salem during one of our day trips we typically go on a couple times a year. When I finally went inside of the Salem Witch Museum’s auditorium, I felt silly that I was scared of the statues since it turned out that they were only statues as a recording tells the history of the Salem Witch Trials while lights were used to give spotlights for the stationary statues. After the presentation, we went into the exhibit that shared the history of Wicca and the depiction of witches over the centuries. Then we visited the gift shop before we left to see more of Salem. Our advisor who was also one of my History professors expressed his concerns that the recording used outdated information and the Witch Trials overshadowing other significant narrative in Salem’s history especially Salem’s maritime history. While he did express his concerns, we did visit a couple of places that were related to the Salem Witch Trials such as the memorial to those who were killed and the Witch House where one of the judges who tried a number of court cases during that period. We made visits to other places in Salem in addition to the Salem Witch Museum and places related to the 1692 Salem Witch Trails.

There are many places we visited in Salem as a group which are easily overlooked because of the popularity of the Salem Witch Trials. For instance, we visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Sites where a number of historic buildings, wharves, and a replica tallship tell stories about how Salem residents helped build the foundation for one of the most powerful national economies. Another example of places we visited is the House of Seven Gables is a house built for Captain John Turner and remained within the family for three generations, and was made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of Seven Gables published in 1851. It has been a long time since I visited the town of Salem, and now I look at the website for the first time in years and I am impressed.

On their “History/Education” page of the website, there is a section on witch hunts that gives varying examples of witch hunts throughout history and modern history. An equation is presented at the top of the page that reads out “Fear+Trigger=Scapegoat”; in other words, it means that when fear is triggered a scapegoat is used to express one’s fear that causes harm to individuals treated as scapegoats. During the Salem Witch Trails, it was the fear of the devil that was triggered by the community which led to many innocent people to be tried and killed for being witches. A modern history example listed on the page is the fear of infection which was triggered by AIDS and unfortunately the gay community was used as a scapegoat for the AIDS epidemic. The page allows visitors to submit their own examples, and I think it is an interesting way to illustrate how the Salem Witch Trails have occurred.

The website also provides a self-guided tour page that allows visitors to see locations around Essex County and a few key sites in and around Boston that are related to the events of 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Individuals can click on the town and city names on the map or on the left side of the page to not only see pictures but to read about the sites in these locations. There are descriptions of the sites from the witchcraft trials which can still be seen today, including original houses, foundations, grave sites, and sites marked by historic markers. If one is interested in learning about witches and maritime history, I recommend visiting Salem when one has the opportunity.

Announcement: Next week will be my 100th blog post so stay tuned for a special blog post!

Resources:
https://salemwitchmuseum.com/
https://www.nps.gov/sama/index.htm
https://7gables.org/

Museum Impressions, Abigail Adams Birthplace

Added to Medium, September 13, 2018

After writing about my impressions of Plimoth Plantation, I was asked to write about my impressions about another museum I have visited during my childhood. I visited the historic house, the Abigail Adams Birthplace, while I was a teenager. The Abigail Adams Birthplace is owned by the Abigail Adams Historical Society in North Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was also the wife of the second President of the United States, John Adams, and the mother of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams. This visit was one of the significant visit to museums while I was growing up because it proved to me that my passion for history and museums is not a phase I would move on from; it would become a lifelong passion.

In my post about Plimoth Plantation, I pointed out that my passion for history and museums began with visits to museums like Plimoth Plantation. The living history museum was not the only museum I visited during my childhood. A lot of the museums I visited were with my family and with school field trips. When I went with my family, we used library passes for free or reduced admission to museums. There was an example of a visit to a museum that we happened to come across.

My mother, sisters, and I were driving through Weymouth to meet with family who lived in the area. On our way to a family gathering, my mother and I discovered the Abigail Adams Birthplace and because there was no parking lot we immediately pulled over to take a quick tour of the house. My sisters at the time were not as keen to see it so they decided to stay in the car. I remember there were a lot of trees surrounding the house and a small sign that indicated it was the birthplace of Abigail Adams. I remember thinking that we were lucky the house was open and that we were allowed to take a tour of the house. One of the guides told us the history of the house, and my mother and I soaked up the information we were given. We did not realize how much time had passed until my sisters eventually decided to come into the house. All of us did not stay for too long since we still needed to reach our family’s house for our family gathering. Since my visit there, I explored the website to see what the Birthplace is like today.

Other than the exterior of the Birthplace is painted differently than what I remembered, I discovered that the property surrounding the Birthplace did not change too much since I last visited the place. There were still a number of trees surrounding the house and a cemetery next to the house. It has been years since I visited the place so I do not know how much of the interior has changed. Based on the few pictures I came across, the interior seemed to be even more wonderful than I remembered. The pieces of furniture and various objects reflected the time period Abigail Adams lived in the house, and still gives me the sense of nostalgia I felt when I explored the house and other museums for the first time. This sense of nostalgia is combined with the knowledge I gained on history and public history, and I see the potential of the Birthplace and appreciate the Abigail Adams Historical Society’s efforts as it moves forward to preserve the home and maintain its relevance in the 21st century. When I explored the website, I was happy to see information and resources provided to capture visitors’ interest in Abigail Adams and the house she grew up in.

In addition to the biography of Abigail Adams, there are quotes from the letters she wrote to her husband John Adams. Also, there is also an archives of news related to the Abigail Adams Birthplace from the renovation work in 2012 to the 200th commemoration of Abigail Adams’ death that will take place on October 28, 2018. The website also gives a brief history of the Birthplace from when it was built in 1685 to its renovation in 1947 when the Abigail Adams Historical Society took ownership of the property. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a modern renovation on the Birthplace which was made possible by the Weymouth Community Preservation Committee grant, and the website included a video and a slideshow of the modern renovation process.

With this modern renovation, it opens up to the opportunities of more year round programming. I think that it is great the renovation took place since when I visited the Birthplace I was lucky that the house happened to be open on that day and I do not remember if the guides gave us information on when their open hours are for a future visit.

I hope that as they move forward in providing more programming, there would be information about field trips and provide more resources. The Abigail Adams Historical Society seems to be going in that direction because there are pages available to provide this information but they are left blank. They also engage with audiences on their Facebook page promoting their programs as well as sharing programs of their colleagues in other historical societies.

The Abigail Adams Birthplace website revealed that their open hours are typically on the weekends from 1pm to 4pm. It is five dollars per adult and one dollar for children under twelve years old. Private tours are also available and need to be planned two weeks in advance.

There is so much potential in this Birthplace, and based on what I see so far Abigail Adams’ childhood home is on its way to preserving its relevance in the 21st century.
If you can, please see this house for yourselves!
Resources:
http://www.abigailadamsbirthplace.com/

Museum Impressions, Plimoth Plantation

Added to Medium, April 12, 2018

I visited many museums as a child but I chose Plimoth Plantation because it was one of the earliest museums I went to that inspired my love for museums.

Plimoth Plantation, located in Plymouth, Massachusetts, started in 1947 by a young archaeologist named Henry Hornblower II with help and support from friends, family and business associates. It started with two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s historic waterfront, and since then the Museum has grown to include the Mayflower II, the English Village, the Wampanoag Homesite, the Hornblower Visitor Center, the Craft Center, the Maxwell and Nye Barns and the Plimoth Grist Mill. This living history museum offers personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.

Today, Plimoth Plantation provides an engaging and experiential indoor and outdoor learning environment on its main campus, at the State Pier on Plymouth’s waterfront, and at the Plimoth Grist Mill on Town Brook. It has permanent exhibits tell the complex and interwoven stories of two distinct cultures, the English and Native American.

I have mixed feelings about Plimoth Plantation because of the nostalgic feelings I have towards the museum as well as admire the concept of living history interpreters engaging with visitors. At the same time, as a museum professional, I am concerned about the situation surrounding the museum’s staff policies. Visitors should have an immersive experience without its quality being hindered. I hope Plimoth Plantation figures out how to resolve the issues that the museum’s staff brought to their attention so the museum can have an appropriate work environment and by extension improve the visitor experience. When I recently visited their website, I not only noticed features that I did not participate in while I was growing up but I thought were interesting.

I personally have not been to Plimoth Plantation in recent years but I decided to take a look at their website to see what the living history center has to currently offer. One of the things I noticed, for instance, was the virtual field trips they offer on their website. On the Virtual Field Trips page, it includes two videos that provides virtual experiences of traveling through the English Village and the Wampanoag Homesite. Also, there is a web activity that gives opportunities for participants to become history detectives, and figure out what really happened at the First Thanksgiving. I liked that there are opportunities for individuals not located close enough to physically to see what Plimoth Plantation has to offer. It serves as a great introduction to Plimoth Plantation whether or not one is close enough to travel to the museum. My experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was a different one especially when I was a child.

My first experience visiting Plimoth Plantation was when I came with my sisters, mother, and my maternal grandmother. I remember walking through the Village and meeting other visitors in the meeting house. Later I saw some pictures from that visit, and each of the pictures showed my sisters and I having an opportunity to use the broom to sweep one of the houses. Another picture I saw was of myself appearing to be giving a lecture which reminded me of the story my mother told me: I pretended to be a minister and encouraged visitors to sit down and participate in the mock service, and then I greeted each individual with handshakes. I went back a number of times during my childhood and then visited as a young adult.

Years later during college I visited Plimoth Plantation with the Historical Society club. As the treasurer on the executive board of the Historical Society, I planned the financial aspects of the trip. Once all the details were settled, all of the Historical Society members and other college students interested in attending drove to Plymouth.

As I learned more about the museum field during college and graduate school, I became more aware of how museums are run. Since I wrote a few blog posts about current conditions of the workforce in the museum field, I am glad that the museum staff members are pointing out the unfair work conditions and they want things to change. Our field is working towards improving conditions but we do have a long way to go. Plimoth Plantation is an example of our need to work harder towards better working conditions for all museum professionals.

I came across an article from the Boston Globe written by Robert Knox last month called “Plimoth Plantation and its ‘Pilgrims’ at odds” about Plimoth Plantation and its current relationship with its living history interpreters. In the article, Knox stated that union members were driven to create a union due to the persistent understaffing, low pay, and deteriorating working conditions and their consequences for visitors’ experience and safety. Knox also provided background information about the stories of what the staff had to face which led to the formation of the union. Negotiations began last year with meetings twice a month, but instead of seeking compromise and consensus the museum hired a high-powered law firm to handle the negotiations rather than giving workers modest raises.

Situations like what is happening at Plimoth Plantation is part of the discussion of why there are many museum professionals leaving the field and we should continue to work towards making our working conditions better for all of our museum professionals. It makes me sad that one of the museums I have visited during my childhood has gone down this road, and I hope things improve especially for the museum workers so we all can focus on creating engaging visitor experiences.

Have you visited Plimoth Plantation? If you have, what was your experience like? What were your impressions?

Resources:
https://www.plimoth.org/
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2018/03/23/plimoth-plantation-and-its-pilgrims-odds/iG7mDoQ2W2wd7JHkbYhlsL/story.html
https://www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/virtual-field-trip