LYNN — Michelle Guzman might be the busiest person during ArtWeek Lynn, a 10-day celebration of the city’s cultural community that begins on Friday.
Guzman, a city resident since 1995, is the brains, voice, and legs behind Lynn’s Walking Shoe Tours. She will lead nine history-rich tours through the Downtown Lynn Cultural District during the event, including a “Lynn @ Night” walk on opening evening.
Some tours are in English, others in Spanish and a few even include a trolley ride to historic outposts throughout Lynn.
Guzman, who hosts tours throughout the year, said she focuses on three distinctly different excursions. “Past & Present” features city art from 1980 to today. “The Beginning of Lynn’s Mary Baker Eddy” is about the founder of the Christian Science Church. The “Lynn @ Night Tour” shines with neon lights, vintage signs, iron sculpture and Lynn’s industrial history from shoe factories to General Electric.
Guzman was born in Florida and grew up in Guatemala. “My mom was very smart to keep me in bilingual school. Every summer she’d ask if I wanted to do fun stuff outdoors, I’d say ‘No. I want to go to bilingual school.’ I had an excellent teacher who made me read National Geographic magazine. I loved it.”
When Guzman reached college age, her mom decided to move here. Guzman earned two Associate degrees at North Shore Community College. “It took me five years. I worked full-time and went to school nights.”
She attended Northeastern University, leaving when she was eight credits shy of graduating when she became pregnant with Manny, now 11.
A job as a sales rep for an international firm in Woburn left her cold. “The human touch was missing,” she said. In 2007, she was hired by Lynn Community Health Center and stayed there for seven years. Interested in social justice and helping people, she moved on to 1199SEIU, a Dorchester labor union that represents some 56,000 health care workers in Massachusetts.
But it’s the walking tours that really excite her.
“They started by accident. I was driving down Broad Street and saw this house that fascinated me. It was the Mary Baker Eddy Historic House.” Guzman went in, talked with the staffers there, and started thinking about the city’s rich history. She read about Lydia Pinkham, the inventor and marketer of a women’s tonic for menstrual and menopausal problems; learned about the mozaic at Heritage State Park; stared in awe at the Tiffany windows at St. Stephen’s Church; and spent lots of time at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society.
In 2017, as she left church one Sunday, a couple of visitors approached her and asked “Can you tell us where the murals are?” It was a nice day, so she walked with the visitors and they enjoyed the Beyond Walls murals together, with Guzman sharing numerous stories about Lynn’s history. “They thanked me and wanted to give me some money. I said, ‘Oh, no. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour’ but it got me thinking. There is a lot more that was here before these beautiful murals.”
Lynn’s Walking Shoe Tours was born.
There’s a plaque on a sign in a small green space at the corner of Broad and Nahant streets, across from the former Girls Inc. headquarters. It reads: “On this site stands the first place in North America to make boots and shoes for export.”
Drew Russo, executive director of Lynn Museum, supported her walking tours idea and OK’d tours embarking from the museum.
Guzman’s grandest tour during ArtWeek is the “Fiesta on the Common and Beyond” on Saturday from 10 to noon. A trolley will circle Lynn Common and pass seven churches, all of different denominations, the gazebo where abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke, the magnificent 119-year-old Public Library building (which will host its own open house 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), the art deco-style City Hall and more. Guzman will encourage attendees at the end of the Fiesta tour to stop in at St. Stephen’s Church, which will host a free “Tiffany Windows Tour” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then venture into Central Square for an artisans fair at the Galleries at LynnArts (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and IronBound’s Food Truck Festival on Mount Vernon Street (noon to 8 p.m.). Guzman will lead a “Tiffany Windows en Espanol” tour from noon to 1 p.m.
“The sense of collaboration is strong in Lynn,” said Guzman.
“Lynn is a cultural city. Lynn is a refugee city. Lynn is a family-oriented city. I want people to feel and be a part of Lynn, to feel proud and be a part of the community.”
For more information on Lynn Walking Shoe Tours, go to its Facebook page or call 781-299-4018. For the complete ArtWeek Lynn calendar, go to the Downtown Lynn Cultural District Facebook page. Most events are free, but there is a $5 charge for Guzman’s trolley tours and a $10 fee for the Baker Eddy House tours.