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... knicker box ... )
... and nine pins. Photos courtesy of the Henry Whitfield State Museum )
Spectrum Gallery (Photo courtesy of the Spectrum Gallery )
On Connecticut Open House Day, on Saturday, June 9, visitors to the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford can play with bubble wands. )
... rolling hoops ... )
The Dudley Farm Museum (Photo courtesy of the Dudley Farm Museum )
... draughts, also known as checkers ... )
... cup and ball ... )
The Adam Stanton House (Photo courtesy of the Adam Stanton House )
The Stony Creek Museum in Stony Creek, Branford (Photo courtesy of the Stony Creek Museum )
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If you wander across the tidy lawn of the meticulously maintained Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford on Connecticut Open House Day, Saturday, June 9, you will run into a whole lot of fun. Bubble wands, rolling hoops, knicker boxes, pick-up sticks, cup-and-ball toys, jacks, marbles, tops, and draughts, also known as checkers, will be out and waiting for anyone who wants to play. Michael McBride, the Whitfield museum curator, is positively ebullient as he describes the museum’s Puritan at Play event, which, like hundreds of others across the state on Connecticut Open House Day, will be free.
There is so much about Connecticut Open House Day that is about fun. Participants will get discounts on one-of-a-kind, sold-in-Connecticut-only handmade goods. They’ll get to visit luxe hotels, sit by the pool, and order drink specials. They’ll discover the work of local artists. And, they’ll have numerous opportunities to discover the state’s history in context and with an eye to accurate historical detail.
The event, in its 14th year, will feature more than 225 attractions all over the state, with free admission and free tours at many of them. There also will be special discounted offers at about 100 businesses, ranging from hotels to art galleries.
At Whitfield Museum event, children will connect with their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, some of whom might remember playing these games, he says. While playing, visitors can also connect with people from the past, in this case perhaps the family of Guilford’s first minister, for whom the house was built in 1639. In addition to the family home, The Whitfield house also served as a fort for the new settlement of Guilford and is Connecticut’s oldest house. And, for those who wander up past the games to the house itself and step inside, the visit might also serve as a path towards a new understanding of who we are as Americans, and where we came from.
The fact is, McBride posits, much of what we may have learned about our country’s early history is not entirely accurate. Rather, much of it was concocted by amateur historians, novelists, and poets in the late 1800s during what is now characterized as the Colonial Revival phenomenon, and was later transferred to history books and taught as gospel to school children. It was a history written with an eye to romanticizing the past, rather than recording it with reverence to accurate historical detail.
He points to one small detail. That tidy lawns and meticulously maintained home? The truth is a bit messy and much more interesting.
“The house didn’t look that nice in the 1600s, I can tell you that. And I will tell you that when you come to see us,” he says. “You are seeing a restoration.”
In the same way, the Colonial Revival movement focused on “making the good old days look good,” lionizing some members of society, while ignoring or discrediting others.
“It was pervasive. So when historians found out a fact they didn’t like, they modified it or didn’t talk about it. Slavery? They didn’t want to talk about that. And even when people wrote their own family history in genealogies, they’d leave out the black sheep, or put him in and not mention the fact he happened to be executed for witchcraft. Or that he ran away to sea and left his family indigent and paupers...It was in part a response to celebrating the centennial, and it was also a response to America moving towards an uncertain future, industrialization, and white Anglo Saxon Protestants being concerned about becoming a minority in this industrial world power, when faced with immigrants who spoke a multitude of languages and maybe practiced another religion.”
Part of the point about the Puritans at Play day is to puncture the “fake news” about what it was to be a Puritan, he says. He says it’s true that children in the 1600s in America were treated differently than children today. There wasn’t much leisure time for anyone. But that’s not because the Puritans were inherently cranky, incessantly religious, or always stiff-upper-lip strict.
“They weren’t putting the screws to the kids. If every member of the family didn’t do their part, particularly with food production, people would die,” he says of the Puritans. “But it wasn’t like the kids were denied playtime. There was playtime and it was fun. Kids will find a way.”
Open House Day provides an ideal opportunity to share what the museum has to offer.
“We love this program,” McBride says of Connecticut Open House Day. “We’ve been doing this as long as they have had it. We always have a lot of people coming it. It’s just kind of a really easy way to connect with people. People play these games and they’re in kind of a comfort zone. And when they walk into the house, it’s like they are our best buddies. There is no reservation about diving in to what the house has to offer”
More than 225 Opportunities
If there’s one person in the state of Connecticut who’s even more excited about Connecticut Open House Day than Michael McBride, that might be Randy Fiveash, the director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism. Originally from Georgia, he came to Connecticut by way of Kentucky, and has been in the tourism business for more than 30 years. He says Connecticut Open House Day will showcase the state’s incredibly diverse offerings, from fun to fascinating.
“What we know about Connecticut from our research is that most Connecticut residents don’t really know what’s in their own backyard,” he says. “And then their friends and relatives come and visit, and they don’t know where to take them. We want them to know where to go and what to do when they get there.”
He says the timing of the event in Connecticut, right before the busy summer tourist season on the Connecticut shoreline and Connecticut River Valley, is ideal.
Over the years, more and more businesses have gotten involved to supplement the offerings from the museums and historical sites, he says.
“We really try to showcase it in a way that the visitor can get a real sense and real feel of what it’s like to visit,” he says.
One example is the Saybrook Point Inn, Marina & Spa in Old Saybrook, he says. From 9 to 11 a.m., Connecticut Open House visitors can be their guest and use the indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, steam room, and health club. At 11 a.m., there will be coffee, treats, and giveaways on the deck. At 11:15 a.m., there will be a raffle drawing, and at 11:30 a.m. everyone can toast with a drink special at the waterfront restaurant.
Want to shop ’til you drop? Rather than settle for something ordinary, on Connecticut Open House Day you can head on over to Chester, where Drew and Cassie Archer from Blackkat Leather at 1 Main Street will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., offering a 15 percent discount. The new business offers handbags, totes, crossbody bags, briefcases, duffle bags, Dopp kits, belts, wallets, bracelets, and eyeglass cases.
Work in Progress
Drew Archer says it’s their first time participating in Connecticut Open House Day and he’s hoping for the best.
In addition to taking advantage of discounts, he says visitors will be able to see work going on in the shop.
“Everything is made by hand from design, cutting, punching holes, and assembly. Most of our bags are sewn by hand with needle and thread. All of our designs feature an emphasis on simplicity and durability. We use thicker bridle leather complimented by solid copper rivets and brass hardware throughout each bag,” he says.
“Many of the other local shops are participating [in Connecticut Open House Day] and as a new business it seemed like a great event to be part of,” he says. “What a great way to showcase Connecticut businesses; especially those that are handmade products! Its nice to see that the state is actively engaging with local businesses and doing things to support us. Hopefully more makers and artists will be encouraged to participate each year.”
In nearby Centerbrook, Barbara Nair, from the Spectrum Gallery & Artisan Store at 61 Main Street, will also be offering discounts from noon to 6 p.m.
“I believe this is our third year participating,” she says. “We have found it tends to bring new people to the gallery who see us on the list, as well as on the signage provided by the organizers, which we place near our gallery sign in front of the gallery.”
This year, the open house day falls on the same weekend as Spectrum’s Essex Summer Arts Festival, and Nair says visitors can take advantage of that as well. The free festival, on Saturday, June 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, and Sunday, June 10, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. takes place on the Essex Town Green, will feature award-winning artists and fine artisans from Connecticut and tri-state area.
A Sense of Who We Are
In Ivoryton, the Ivoryton Playhouse is offering complimentary backstage tours from 9 a.m. to noon, and discounted tickets. In Clinton, the Adam Stanton House, the Clinton Art Gallery, and the Elisha White House are among those participating. At the Deacon John Grave House in Madison, there will be a hearth cooking demonstration. In New Haven, East Street Arts will have interactive demos, tours, refreshments, and a free mug for the first 50 visitors. Also in New Haven, the Pardee-Morris House and the Yale Center for British Art are offering tours and free admission. In North Haven, the North Haven Historical Society will pay tribute to some local heroes, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the North Haven Police Department. Fiveash agrees that the exhibits, tours, and museum offerings do have a role to play when it comes to combating fake news and erroneous notions about the past.
“These organizations really do gives us a sense of who we are and who we’ve been,” he says. “Connecticut in particular has such a rich history, with the first constitution, and the role it played in the Revolutionary War. It’s played such an important part in our nation’s history. It’s important we never lose sight of that.”
Take just Guilford alone, for example, he says.
In addition to the Whitfield house, on Connecticut Open House Day, also in Guilford the Dudley Farm Museum will provide farm and farmhouse tours, the Guilford Art Center will be offering the opportunity to win merchandise from the renowned New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, the Guilford Information Kiosk will be offering free walking tours and gift bags, the Witness Stones African American History Walking Tour will be available, and the following museums will be offering free admission: the Hyland House Museum, the Medad Stone Tavern, and the Thomas Griswold House.
McBride says it’s the Whitfield house’s “first big blow out” of the season, and he can’t wait.
“When people walk in after playing the games, instead of saying, ‘Where are you from?’ we can say, ‘What was your favorite game?’ We have our fingers crossed for good weather. But it’s a go one way or the other.”
For more information about Connecticut Open House Day, visit www.ctvisit.com/connecticut-open-house-day-june-9-2018.
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