Opinion

History in good hands

Marblehead is steeped in history from Abbot Hall to Marblehead Harbor and streets lined with centuries-old homes. Fortunately for town residents and all history buffs, the Marblehead Museum is prepared to make a smooth transition from its veteran executive director to her successor.

Pam Peterson is stepping down from the Museum’s helm on Jan. 1 after a 19-year career at the Museum, including 13 years as director. Curator Lauren McCormack, who has an impressive résumé as a historical archivist, will be the new executive director.

The past is a constant reminder in Marblehead and professional curators have a town-sized responsibility when it comes to chronicling Marblehead’s history and displaying exhibits reflecting the past. Peterson excelled in this task and her love for history shined with every endeavor mounted by the Museum.

She led the now-completed gallery renovation that included raising money for the project. She helped ensure Marblehead’s sacrifice during the Civil War is preserved through the local Grand Army of the Republic museum in the Old Town House and she has been a steadfast advocate for the Jeremiah Lee Mansion’s continued preservation.

Museums and historical societies conjure up visions of dusty books and time-worn displays. But it is hard to overstate the work and the competitive drive that goes into ensuring any museum, especially one in a small town, stays adequately — if not well-funded — and draws in residents and history-lovers who are fascinated by what they learn from displays.

Big museums with well-known names compete for limited financial allocations and mount capital campaigns driven by prominent citizens to pay for marquee exhibits. Small museum curators like Peterson and McCormack, aided by their coworkers, have an even more urgent task of competing for public money — when it is available — and constantly making the argument that a town’s history is part of the fabric of a community.

Their constant task is to interest young town residents in the community’s history and instill in the students the importance of appreciating the past and learning from it. In a town like Marblehead where three centuries of history are so well preserved, decisions about development, commercial growth, residential construction and even rerouting roads are tied to the past and the museum is where people who care about the town go to answer the question, “Why were things done this way?”

It is fitting and reassuring that McCormack’s most recent job before she started working in Marblehead was at the USS Constitution Museum. Marblehead’s tie to the ocean is so strong that McCormack’s transition from Charlestown to Marblehead was surely seamless.

Her transition to Peterson’s job is likely to be equally seamless and the beneficiaries of that transition will be town residents who can rest assured Marblehead’s history is in good hands.

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