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Unearthed

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Jon Marcus at the Ames Shovel Archive at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. By Gary Wayne Gilbert

In Unknown New England, Jon Marcus delves the region's best-kept secrets. An interview by Nicole Estvanik

What place surprised you most?
A one-room museum in the back of a jewelry store in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, which is a landlocked community near Springfield. After seeing the 1956 movie Titanic, the owner of the local cinema got the addresses of all the remaining survivors. He collected Madeleine Astor's life vest, a piece of carpet from the stateroom, even a breakfast menu from the pocket of a floating corpse. The space contains 2,100 artifacts.

Is there an event in New England history that particularly intrigues you?
In 1832, settlers in what is now Pittsburg, New Hampshire, frustrated with a boundary dispute in which they were claimed by both Canada and the United States, founded the Independent Republic of Indian Stream, with a militia of 40 men. Everybody left them alone for 10 years—then they had the very bad idea of invading Canada.

What should Bostonians be most ashamed that they've never seen?
We're so obsessed with being depressed about the Red Sox, but a lot of Bostonians don't know the first World Series was played here in 1903. There's a piece of granite in the shape of home plate at the exact place, on what is now the campus of Northeastern University. I was there on the 100th anniversary of the Series, and no one was paying any attention.

What landmark are you most surprised has remained unknown?
The museum of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, in the attic of Faneuil Hall. They have the hoof of a horse from the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, and cannons, and a trunk of a tree from Gettysburg. Thomas Edison personally installed the lighting. The only thing you can hear is the creaking of the floorboard, because there's nobody up there. Yet downstairs in Faneuil Hall Marketplace there are thousands of people.

Do any well-known attractions not quite merit their reputation?
Paul Revere's house doesn't look anything like it looked when Revere lived there. By the time it was opened as a tourist attraction, he had been dead for 90 years, and it had been remodeled and used as a cigar factory.

New England is museum-crazy, isn't it.
New England has museums for dirt, plastic, garbage, postage stamps, pranks, ham radio, antique radios, the wireless telegraph, kerosene lamps, culinary arts, bad art, politics, the Arctic, forestry, lifesaving, fly-fishing, skiing, snowmobiles, the Mack Truck, shoes, cuff links, amateur astronomy, medical rarities. . . .

Why do you think that's so?
Maybe we're just frugal Yankees who never throw anything away.

 

Photo: Jon Marcus at the Ames Shovel Archive at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. By Gary Wayne Gilbert

 

     
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