History Defeats Itself


The 379th meeting of the Ipswich History Police will now come to order.

Do I have a motion that the minutes from the last meeting be sealed in a time capsule and buried in an unmarked grave to avoid any chance of future generations knowing we were here? Thank you. Do I have a second? All in favor? The motion is carried.

Let’s deal with Old Business first. We have a proposal here to erect a work of art in a historically significant location. All opposed? Let the record show, the vote was unanimous.

Excuse me? Oh, I’m sorry, you’re right. I did forget to say “All in favor?” Well, yes, as a matter of fact, you’re right, I also forgot to open the floor for discussion. Was there something you wanted to discuss?

Oh, that. Well, I don’t think there’s any question about the matter. We have a solemn obligation to preserve the historic spaces in this town. This is one of the most historically significant towns in America, and if we don’t preserve our history, we might not have any significance.

Yes, I know that old photos show that park benches were installed on at least one of our historic locations at some point. You’re right, those benches were not historically appropriate to the site. But I’m sure they were entirely necessary. I believe members of the History Police actually sat on those benches in round-the-clock shifts, monitoring that historical space for unwanted sculpture installations.

No, of course we can’t preserve every detail of our town exactly the way it was in 1634. We’re not that narrow-minded. Some things have to look different, I realize that. Just look at the plaque on County Road, the one about the original Agawam residents. When you drive into town from Hamilton, that plaque jumps right out at you! You can read the headline from your car! Don’t you think people passing that sign say to themselves, “Wow, it sure ain’t 1634 anymore. That plaque was made with very modern manufacturing processes.” Yes, they do. I know I do. I wish County Road could look exactly the way it did in 1634, but it’s just not possible. We needed that plaque. To remind us of the people we bought the land from. That plaque celebrates the first in a long line of real estate developments.

So don’t tell me we’re trying to freeze Ipswich in the past. We just want to be very careful about how much of the present we celebrate. In case a hundred years from now, it turns out that what we’re doing right now wasn’t actually all that great. That would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it!

Well, certainly it’s possible that we might someday approve something that alters one of our most revered historical spaces. It’s happened before. We have quite a number of monuments, for example. Just look around. That one over there is a monument to boys who went off to war and died. And look at that one over there: it also commemorates boys who went off to war and died. And so does that one. Well, yes, that one does too. What are you, un-American? Don’t you think we should honor our boys who went off to war and died? We named a school after a boy who went off to war and died. Do you realize what this means? One of the names most often spoken aloud in the town of Ipswich is the name of a boy who went off to war and died! It’s beautiful!

No, I don’t think historians a hundred years from now will look back at Ipswich in 2015 and figure that all we did was send our boys off to war to die. I think they’ll figure we did a darn good job of preserving our history — and didn’t clutter up our public spaces with anything less important than boys going off to war and dying!

What’s this? You don’t have to hand me this on a piece of paper. I’ve seen this many times. It’s quite famous. It’s part of a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail:

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

So what’s your point? Yes, I know Ipswich is now home to many, many artists. Yes, wonderful artists, I agree. Well, I never thought of it that way, but yes, I guess you could say John Adams’s dream has come true in Ipswich. So you want to celebrate this? By erecting fabulous works of art smack in the middle of our historical spaces?

I’m very disappointed in you, Gordon. I thought you were one of us.

Is there a motion to adjourn?

Doug Brendel lives among numerous works of contemporary art in a 198-year-old house on outer Linebrook. Click “Follow” to get his posts in your inbox


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