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Historic home director Nina Zannieri ’77
Nina Zannieri works in a former bed chamber in a Georgian brick home once owned by boat builder Nathaniel Hichborn (d. 1769) in Boston’s North End, surrounded by reproduction 18th-century prints and stacks of grant proposals. She is executive director of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, in charge of both Hichborn’s house and its better-known, humbler-looking next-door neighbor, the 1680 Paul Revere House.
A New Jersey native, Zannieri grew up reading historical novels such as Johnny Tremain and Little Women. “I thought of history as cool stories about interesting people,” she says, “and I never got trapped in just the names and dates.” After majoring in history at Boston College, she earned a master’s degree in anthropology and museum studies at Brown University, then spent six years at the Rhode Island Historical Society, as curator of collections ranging from Colonial women’s needlepoint to silverwork.
Since taking her current post in 1986, Zannieri has worked to “breathe life” back into the silversmith’s small (1,800-square-foot) gray wooden home. She hired re-enactors to portray Revere and his family, introduced seasonal meals—of plaster of Paris and wax—in the dining room, and set a pre-Revolutionary clock ticking in the second-floor bedroom. “Some folks in my field think we shouldn’t do that”—put an antique clock to work—Zannieri notes, but she wants visitors to “imagine that Revere has just left the room.”
Zannieri directs a full-time staff of seven, plus 20 docents. The house itself is a taskmaster. On Super Bowl Sunday 2011, a staff member on duty encountered a “crackling, gurgling” electrical box in the basement. Zannieri hastened from her home in Rhode Island and convinced an electrician to repair the wiring that day, then stayed in her office overnight, “checking every hour to make sure the house wasn’t burning down.”
In 2007, to better serve the museum’s quarter-million annual visitors, Zannieri negotiated the acquisition of a 3,600-square-foot 1835 building behind Revere’s house. The property is being renovated to include an interactive retelling of the midnight ride (in both Revere’s and Longfellow’s words); facilities for silversmithing and cooking demonstrations; a gift shop, public restrooms, and elevator. After six years of fundraising, planning with architects, and consulting with state and federal regulators, Zannieri expects to welcome the public inside in 2014.
Read more by Zachary Jason