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The Bostonian Society Presents
Through the Keyhole
An all-new exhibit at the Old State House featuring the door from the Hancock House, residence of Governor John Hancock
Explore how the objects we preserve shape the stories of our history
June 20, 2018 – December 28, 2018, Open 7 days 9-6 pm

Boston, MA …. The Bostonian Society will present Through the Keyhole, an all-new exhibition at the Old State House exploring how the objects we preserve shape the stories we remember. For the first time in decades, the front door of the Hancock House, John Hancock’s Beacon Hill home, will be displayed to the public, newly set in a meticulous recreation of its original surrounding entryway crafted by students from the Preservation Carpentry program at North Bennet Street School. The exhibit will also feature additional items from The Bostonian Society’s collection, which relate to the Hancock home and its inhabitants, including oil paintings, the Hancock family bible, and wooden mementos made from the timbers of the original house. 

Through the Keyhole will run from June 20 through December 28, 2018 at the Old State House, 206 Washington Street, Boston, MA, 02109.  Open 7 days a week from 9-5; from Memorial Day through Labor Day open 9-6.  The public can preview the exhibition starting on Sunday, June 3rd.  For more information see www.bostonhistory.org or call 617-720-1713.

Enhanced by specialized tours, original programming, and community events, the Hancock House door serves as a gateway for visitors to re-examine the national narrative. The demolition of the Hancock House in 1863 caused a massive public outcry and launched a preservation movement in New England that saved countless buildings and artifacts from destruction. Through the Keyhole will challenge visitors to think about the objects we preserve, and how they form our perceptions of who we are as Americans.  What barriers do we create by choosing one story over another? And what doors are yet to be opened?

 “As custodians and interpreters of the Old State House, we know the immeasurable influence historic objects have on how we view the American Origin Story,” said Nathaniel Sheidley, Executive Director of the Bostonian Society.  “By exhibiting the door from the Hancock House, we hope to engage our 21st-century audiences to think about some of today’s most complex issues, especially our most fundamental beliefs in justice and equality:  Who are the “we” in We the People?  Whose stories do we tell in the objects we choose to preserve?  Whose stories are missing? Through this exhibit we hope visitors will understand the ongoing obligation of our nation to honor our legacy and understand the importance of preserving our history.”


New Immersive Theatrical Event!
Cato & Dolly – a new play by Patrick Gabridge commissioned for the Old State House
Premiering Friday, July 6th, running nine times per week through September 29th

Visitors to Through the Keyhole will be treated to a new work by Playwright Patrick Gabridge, whose powerful site-specific play Blood On The Snow had a sold-out run at the Old State House and was called “electric and alive” by WGBH’s Jared Bowen. Gabridge’s new 20-minute live play titled Cato & Dolly has been created specifically for this exhibit, and will give visitors a glimpse of everyday life behind the Hancock door through the eyes of those who lived there:  Dolly Hancock, wife of John Hancock and First Lady of Massachusetts; and Cato Hancock, an enslaved person in the Hancock household.

Cato & Dolly travels through some of early America’s most pivotal events, giving new perspective to the American narrative. Two actors will inhabit these roles as well as other Revolutionary-era figures whose lives intersected at the famous Hancock House over the course of 50 years. Unlock the forgotten stories of the past and step over the threshold of history to experience the lives of those who witnessed the dawn of American Independence. Cato & Dolly premieres on Friday, July 6th and will run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 11 am, 12:30 pm, and 2 pm through September 29, 2018. The play is included in the price of admission. 


The Hancock House: A Witness to History and Origin of Historic Preservation in New England

Wealthy merchant Thomas Hancock built Hancock House in 1737 on Beacon Hill at 30 Beacon Street (on the Southwest corner of today’s Massachusetts State House).  The three-story granite mansion overlooked pastureland on the Boston Common and included acres of farmland, trees, and gardens. Hancock, his wife Lydia, servants, and enslaved people shared the home.  Young John Hancock joined the household a few years after the death of his father.  When Thomas Hancock died in 1764, John inherited his uncle’s holdings, including the Beacon Hill home.

The Hancock House was the primary residence of John and his wife Dorothy (Quincy) Hancock throughout Hancock’s storied political career, which included serving as President of the Second Continental Congress, signing the Declaration of Independence, and serving as the 1st and 3rd Governor of Massachusetts. John Hancock died in the home in 1793. 

Hancock’s descendants unsuccessfully offered the home to the state as a governor's residence after his death. In June 1863, the house was sold at public auction to make way for new townhouses.  A public outcry followed. Many of the home’s components were auctioned off, and bits and pieces from stonework to balusters to cornices were scattered throughout the country. Prior to demolition, detailed measured drawings were made of the house by architect John Hubbard Sturgis, launching the preservation movement in New England. 

Large architectural pieces from the Hancock House, like the front steps and main staircase, were incorporated into other homes across New England. Hancock furnishings became prized possessions, used by new families. Architectural fragments were kept as relics, and pieces of wood from the house were transformed by new owners into original objects such as cups, vases, and canes.

The Bostonian Society reunites items from the mansion once again in Through the Keyhole, centered around the Hancock House’s original front door:  The door knocker was separated from the door at the house’s demolition, and used on the Cambridge door of physician and poet, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. The knocker was donated to the Bostonian Society in 1888.  The twelve-panel, solid Eastern White Pine door served as the Hancock House’s front door for the building’s 126-year lifetime, 1737 to 1863, and became part of the Bostonian Society collection in 1899. 

Attend Through the Keyhole

Through the Keyhole will run from June 20 – December 28, 2018 at the Old State House, 206 Washington Street, Boston, MA, 02109.  Open 7 days a week from 9-5; from Memorial Day through Labor Day open 9-6.  All daytime Through the Keyhole programming is included with admission.  Adults $10.00, discounts apply for seniors and students. Youth ages 6-18, Massachusetts Teachers, EBT Cardholders, US Military and Veterans are admitted free.  Located on the MBTA Blue/Orange line to State Street.  For more information see www.bostonhistory.org or call 617-720-1713.



About The Old State House Museum

The Old State House museum collection includes objects related to the Old State House and the history of Boston from prehistory to the present day.  The object collection includes items related to John and Dorothy Hancock, the maritime history of Boston, firefighting from the 18th through 21st century, furniture, prints, textiles, and household items. The Old State House, the oldest surviving public building in Boston, was built in 1713 to house the government offices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As the center of civic, political, and business life, the Old State House was a natural meeting place for the exchange of economic and local news making it the epi-center of events that sparked the American Revolution from the Boston Massacre to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 18, 1776.  The Boston National Historic Sites Commission called the Old State House “the most important public building in American history prior to the Declaration of Independence.”  The Bostonian Society has been the caretaker of the Old State House since 1881, when it was established to rescue the building from demolition and preserve it on-site.


About the Bostonian Society:

Established in 1881, the nonprofit Bostonian Society is dedicated to studying and preserving Boston’s uniquely important history, embodied in materials, records, and structures such as the Old State House, and in sharing an understanding of the revolutionary ideas born here.  The Society’s staff interprets the Revolutionary-era history of Boston for future generations every day in the museum.  In addition, the Bostonian Society maintains a research library and a collection of over 6,000 objects, 7,500 books, 350 maps, and over 30,000 photographs. The collections of the Bostonian Society are accessible to researchers, students, and members of the public at bostonhistory.org and in person. Connect: Bostonhistory.org; Twitter @BostonianSoc, #throughthekeyhole; Facebook @TheBostonianSociety


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