By Alex Cornacchia, Contributing Writer
Grafton – There’s an odd, large object occupying one corner of the Grafton Historical Society Museum’s annex. It’s approximately half wood and half metal, and on first inspection it seems like it could be just as easily at home on a farm as the set of a horror movie. So when the Museum Director Linda Casey mentioned the movie “Frozen,” it came as a bit of a surprise.
“It’s an ice cutter,” she revealed, launching into a description of a scene in the film in which a bunch of 19th-century Norwegian men show off their vocal talents while sawing through lake ice. Grafton residents wielded similar devices to cut up ice on Silver Lake for their food preservation in the days when ice cubes weren’t magically tumbling from refrigerators.
The whole museum is full of these moments, feeling as though you’ve stumbled on a hidden gem with an unexpectedly good story. In fact, it’s kind of the feeling you get stumbling into the building in the first place.
Tucked underneath a row of brick storefronts just off of Grafton Common, a black sign with gold lettering is the only thing announcing the museum’s presence. It’s a small and unassuming space – in the 1950s it housed a school cafeteria; 100 years before that, it was a shoe factory – but what it might lack in grandeur, it makes up for with its assortment of oddities and everyday objects that collectively give voice to the tales of Grafton’s past.
“If you have an artifact or two, you can tell a story,” Casey explained.
And the Grafton Historical Society certainly has a few: by the time they decided to open a museum in 2007, the group had already acquired over 100 boxes of miscellaneous items. Their problem wasn’t so much a dearth of things as it was trying to figure out, in pile after pile of unlabeled objects, what exactly they had in their hands.
Gradually, with the aid of volunteers who met each week to sift and sort, the collection began to take shape. Firearms, fans, quilts and account books all found their places on walls and shelves. Crumpled dresses were sent off to the dry cleaner; they left looking “like dishrags” and came back freshly ironed and in search of proper display.
“The people were so tiny then – I can’t find mannequins small enough,” Casey jokingly lamented.
When you’re relying on donations, both to populate the museum and to keep it financially afloat, your goals can’t be too lofty. Entertaining visitors, fostering a sense of community, and illuminating connections – those are the museum’s specialties. When elementary-schoolers visit, Casey brings them over to a mysterious wooden box. She opens the top, plops in a record, and watches their expressions change as she carefully sets the needle down and Sousa’s “Blaze Away March” comes floating out.
“Then I show them the volume control,” she said, opening a small set of doors at the front of the record player making the music gradually louder.
Because growing the museum has involved a lot of learning on the fly, these moments of discovery come just as often for the people running the organization as they do for the visitors. Sometimes an artifact will flummox the volunteers until one of them sees something similar in another museum. Sometimes an 11-year-old boy will walk in with more knowledge of the muskets on the wall than the person leading the tour. There’s a lot of trial and error. But then, the process of unearthing, relearning, letting the story shift with each new piece of the puzzle – that’s history.
For more information and hours, visit graftonhistoricalsociety.org or call 508-839-0000.