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The Yankee Express

Auburn Historical Museum is Calling You!

Ryan Levesque, Assistant Curator, and Renee Peace, Curator, with the Valentine's Exhibit

By Janet Stoica

Yes you, you’re the one I’m writing to. When’s the last time you took a bit of your time to relax for an hour or so to visit your local artifacts’ site?  This unique find is open to all not just Auburn residents. There are interesting exhibits and well-informed volunteers who will be happy to show you around while explaining the historical subjects housed at the Auburn Historical Society’s Museum (“AHS”) site on South Street, just a quick ride from where you live really.

Helen Poirier, Research Coordinator, and Sari Bitticks, President & Tour Guide


First up for your review is their Valentine’s Day Exhibit focused on the years 1930-1960. Sari Bitticks, the President of the AHS, stated that “some of the cards were donated from my parents’ collection and some were donated from the Auburn Elementary School teachers, specifically Mary Louise Edgerley of the Boyce Street School. These are very beautiful Valentine’s Day cards, some are the honeycomb variety, more pink than red, and still very impressive. There is one card that must’ve been my mom’s first Valentine’s card after getting married as she signed it ‘Mrs. Carlton Winckler,’ probably a new bride sort of thing to do. There are cute cartoon cards and some are photocopies of monstrously huge cards like one from my dad to my mom signed ‘Your future husband.’ It’s a two-foot by three-foot card, can you believe it?  It’s size was minimized and photocopied for the exhibit.”  Valentine’s Day traces its beginnings back to St. Valentine, a priest from the third century. Sounds like a heartfelt exhibit.
For a modest-sized building, the AHS has quite an educational collection of exhibits. One of the more interesting displays is a 150-year-old shoemaker’s bench complete with all the necessary shoe-making tools. “Old Sturbridge Village’s head shoe-maker visited us a few years ago and told us that our bench was certainly a better example than what OSV displayed,” said Ms. Bitticks. The building also houses a 246-year-old directional sign of Auburn’s original name of “Ward.” Yes, Auburn was not known as Auburn all those many years ago. The Massachusetts’ town of Ware wasn’t too happy about the Ward name as mix-ups with mail and directions were happening much too frequently for Ware’s patience. Since Ware had been established before Ward, Auburn became the new town name. The sign depicts an arrow and a ruffled-shirt-cuffed hand pointing to the town of Ward which was in existence from 1778-1837.
There is a displayed Civil War uniform that belonged to Lt. Joel Prouty who later became a Captain in the Grand Army of the Republic which is similar to the American Legion of today. The jacket is conserved in a museum-quality cabinet. Ms. Bitticks pointed out that almost all of the AHS’s display cabinets were built by the carpentry students of Bay Path Regional Vocational High School of Charlton MA. 
If you’re into football, you might be interested in viewing the nearly 100-year-old football uniform from the semi-pro Auburn Cyclones team which was in existence until the 1930’s. The pants are made of canvas and the padding is sewn-in leather all weighing about 11 pounds. The pants were kept up with suspenders! The helmet is leather and the football is made of pigskin. There are several photos from the teams of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The team was disbanded by World War II as members were called to duty to serve in the military. A very competitive team.
“The Boston Post Cane which was a 1907 creation by the former Boston Post Newspaper to be given to a town’s oldest resident and passed on to succeeding golden-agers, holds a spot of recognition here too,” said Ms. Bitticks, “Originally there were 700 canes made and there are only 40 left. The AHS displays one of the originals. We still hold a Boston Post Cane ceremony, award a certificate, and take photos of the ceremony. Our current cane holder is Mrs. Phyllis Gallant who is 102 years old, a WWII  U.S. Navy veteran, and an active member of our local American Legion.” 
With assistance from the local Nipmuc Tribal members, the AHS is able to offer visitors a display of authentic Nipmuc tools and arrowheads including tomahawks, scrapers, and grinders that made corn meal. 
There are old tax records from 1862 -1960’s which are great for tracking down family histories, a wedding dress made from parachute silk that was brought home by a WWII vet and left on the AHS doorstep with a very, very interesting story behind it, and just so much more. Sometimes and unfortunately, however, people do drop their artifacts off at the AHS door without leaving their contact information which is disheartening as full history cannot be properly provided. 
The AHS building is a former two-room schoolhouse that later became a visiting nurses’ office and in 2004 became the Society’s site. The AHS began in 1967 and Ms. Sari Bitticks has been a volunteer for about 15 years becoming President in 2011. “I retired on a Friday, visited here on a Tuesday and heard someone in the office say they needed computer help so I volunteered my assistance and have been here since,” she said. Sari was a database designer who worked for Digital Computer. The staff is all volunteer and the town rents the building to the AHS which receives no town funding. There is a core group of 10-12 members and 5 faithful members who tend to the organization’s needs each day that they are open which is Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. If you have a keen interest in history, please contact them to volunteer. Their funding comes from membership dues, donations, and fundraisers. They are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to preserve Auburn’s history while educating the public. All donations are tax-deductible.
Auburn Historical Society Museum, 41 South Street, Auburn MA 01501. Phone: (508) 832-6856   Admission is free and they are open year-round on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. or by appointment.