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Preserving Marblehead’s History One Memory at a Time

by Joey Phoenix
All photos courtesy of Marblehead Museum

Every person is a universe filled with stories and experiences all of their own, stories that enrich and add value to their communities. Yet, it’s common for many people to believe their stories aren’t important to share, and because of this, many great stories have become lost to history.

In Marblehead, one museum is attempting to recover some of these stories and keep them as part of the town’s ongoing cultural legacy.

In February of this year, Marblehead Museum launched a three-year project called Marblehead Memories, a concerted effort to gather, record, and archive stories and memories from people who have lived and worked and played in Marblehead. 

1979 Marblehead Festival of the Arts

“For most of us, we don’t think of our own lives as history,” said Marblehead Museum Director Lauren McCormick. 

“The goal of this project is to [gather and record these stories] before we lose any more memories. We then want to make those stories available to people so that they can learn more about the town,” she added. 

One of the difficulties museums have faced in the 21st century is the reality that, in the age of technology, modern humans just aren’t writing stuff down like they used to. This change is forcing museums to rethink the way they capture and store local history, and many of them have adapted by tapping into digital and audio/visual possibilities. 

Have you ever taken a walk around your neighborhood and wondered what goes on in the houses you see? Have you thought about what kind of people live there, what lives they lead? 

For Lucia Gaviria, this thought led to the creation of Beverly Talks, a podcast that reaches into the lives of Beverly residents asking “Who are you? What do you find important in this life?” 

The Many Sides of Marblehead Memories 

For this particular project, there are a number of things the Museum is doing to make it accessible for Marblehead workers and residents, past and present, to have their memories preserved, and add to this ongoing hyperlocal legacy.

The first is the monthly meetings that will be happening on the first Saturday of each month. The first one was in February and was focused on what it was like to grow up in Marblehead.

The next one will be on March 7th with the theme of Leisure and Fun on the Waterfront.

“If people would like to speak we’ll give them that opportunity,” Lauren explained, “but they are also welcome to come to sit in the audience and throw out a comment or ask a question or just listen and take it all in. Nobody is forced to speak if they don’t want to.” 

Each of the sessions will be recorded and stored permanently in the Museum’s archives. 

As part of the project, Marblehead Museum is incorporating two other elements: Marblehead Memories Road Show and Marblehead Memories Booth. Like the famous Antiques Roadshow, Marblehead Memories Roadshow will give people the opportunity to bring things into the Museum and record facts about these artifacts while the museum documents them. 

The Museum Memories Booth will operate like the NPR StoryCorps, and visitors to the museum can record their stories or conversations during open museum hours on a tablet provided for this purpose. 

Introducing the NEW Marblehead Memories Project memory sharing booth!

Hear from Executive Director, Lauren McCormack directly from our NEW #MarbleheadMemories story share booth!

Posted by Marblehead Museum on Thursday, January 30, 2020

Marblehead Community Focused, Community Driven 

The success of Marblehead Memories hinges almost entirely on the fact that the community will want to participate in this project. Lauren encourages Marblehead residents and visitors that if the idea interests you, please identify yourself. Come to the monthly meetings, tell a story for the roadshow or the booth, or share this information on social media using the hashtag #MarbleheadMemories. 

“For this to work well, we need diverse groups of people to participate,” Lauren said. “It can’t just be people who are museum members, it needs to be various social institutions in town, religious institutions, anybody, and everybody.” 

The North Shore is sprinkled with tight-knit, close communities with people who don’t often communicate to other communities in the region. In seaport towns like Gloucester and Marblehead, there are even smaller subsections of neighborhoods that historically haven’t interacted with others across the peninsula.

Most people who grew up in the town in the second half of the twentieth century didn’t get to know other people in the town, outside of their neighborhoods until they got to high school. 

“I’m not a native of Marblehead – and I actually live in Salem – but the more I hear from people sharing their stories, the more I realize the complexity of the small communities,” Lauren explained. “It’s interesting to think in this day of social media, of affordable cars, the changes that have taken place in all of our towns but especially here, there was this sort of insularity in a lot of communities, and what does that seem to indicate?” 

The stories of the people who live in a town have meaning, and the Marblehead Museum is attempting to preserve the microcosm that Marblehead’s historic identity for many generations to come. Click here to find out more about the project or to discover how you might be able to get involved. 


Joey Phoenix is a non-binary performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. They eat way too many apples and read too many books. Send comments, story ideas, and book recommendations to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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