We All Scream!

It’s October or “Spooky Season” as my teenage daughter likes to call it. There is good fun in getting a good fright. After all, who doesn’t love a good scream from time to time? Here at the Museum, we host Spooktober, a month of programming paying homage to the creepy and sinister events that are the hallmark of this time of year. From our resurrection of author Washington Irving to retell his macabre story about the headless horseman from his famed book The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to our always-anticipated cemetery tours on October 12th and 19th to our Haunted House on October 26th–we’re all in on giving you a fun-filled fright. Because we are history museum, we like to base our Halloween happenings on real stories from the past. Westport, like other colonial-era towns, has plenty of scary events from days gone by. At our First Annual Haunted House last year, we featured the story of Westport’s Witches, four local women–Mercy Disbrow, Goodie Miller, Elizabeth Clawson and Mary Staples–who were targeted in the panic and terror of the witch trials that plagued New England and which began in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Mrs. Miller was considered unusual in her behavior and Mrs. Staples was shunned for being outspoken. Suspicion also fell on Mrs. Staples as she had previously been accused in 1653 during the Connecticut Witch Panic. Mrs. Staples was known for being “shrewd” and had little patience for Puritan extremes—a criminal offense in Connecticut, a colony known at the time to be far more stringent in its religious ways than even the Massachusetts. During last year’s Haunted House we also shared ghoulish histories closer to our own times: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Westport was the home of two concerns that made money on the …

What’s In a Name?

In a world where things change so rapidly, one can always depend on history to comfortingly, placidly stay the same—right?  Wrong.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.   It is only the facts of the past that remain unchanged. The truth of what happened, when, who was involved, who gained and who lost—these facts are irrefutable. Whether those facts are accurately retold—or told from all perspectives—is another matter entirely.   It’s an important distinction because this retelling of facts—or parts of them–is what we call history.  What we know as history is subjective. It is a view of the past told through the eyes of an individual or group of individuals. Usually, that group is the one which holds the power to disseminate information. As such, what we call “history” can be one sided or lacking holistic depth.   History can be imperfect, but the facts of the past are neither perfect nor imperfect, they simply exist. Standards for museum interpretation as outlined by national accrediting agencies guide us to offer visitors all the facts that we have available to us so that they may draw their own conclusions based on truth versus conjecture. In other words, historians and history organizations are charged with providing as complete a factual view of the past as is possible.  This is particularly important when we work with local schools to provide learning opportunities for students of all ages.  This modern view of the work we do is actually one that has evolved over time and one which has guided many organizations similar to ours. Like them, we have moved toward creating exhibits and programs based upon facts. In so doing, we’ve also moved toward a clearer understanding of the work we do and its place in the world.  In 2014 Fairfield Historical Society changed its name to the Fairfield Museum and History Center and in 2018 Stamford Historical …