For more years than anyone’s been alive, the Bunker Hill Monument Association (BHMA) has held its annual luncheon meeting on June 17 right after the official exercises commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill, and typically they are pretty tame business.
However, last Thursday the meeting was anything but tame as the membership – in the wake of having lost and/or stolen Monument Guest Books returned after being up for auction earlier this year – called for a professional inventory of all artifacts and documents in the possession of the BHMA. Rightly said, potentially also in various people’s attics or cellars or storage spaces.
“I think we need to raise funds to have a professional archivist to find out what we have, what we should have and where we can find things we should have,” said Member Annette Tecce. “I think we need a professional to do this.”
The BHMA has vast amounts of artifacts dating back to the days when they were the proprietors of the Monument and a ton of Bunker Hill artifacts. Without a place to keep them, many Board members kept things in their attics and cellars – with hundreds of Charlestown homes likely having precious American historical artifacts stored away unknowingly. Some were kept knowingly, and sold off to collectors. Later, as President Arthur Hurley believes, when the state took over the Monument operations prior to it becoming a National Park Service property, the old Massachusetts District Commission (MDC) could have stolen or transferred a great number of artifacts out of the hands of the BHMA.
The three missing guestbooks were a prime example of the need to catalog, safely store, and put on display the many items the BHMA now has in its storage space and in its Bunker Hill Museum office.
“We all know we have to do this and we’re going to do it,” said Hurley.
Tecce and Treasurer Tom Coots suggested applying for a grant from the Charlestown Community Mitigation (Casino) Fund in order to hire a professional archivist.
Still others called for an investigation into the three books and what happened to them.
“These books belong to the BHMA and yet the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held on to them for so many years and let them fly off the wall,” said Member Don Hoska.
Said Coots, “At some point it was out of our possession. It went through a number of legal transactions. The books were purchased and the individual has loaned them to us. We are eternally grateful for that. As far as we know, they have been missing for 50 years.”
Such a conundrum faces many old and historic guardian-type organizations like the BHMA, which boasts a membership of 11 former U.S. presidents, dozens of military generals and 30 mayors of Boston. As the first organization to run the Monument and hold its treasure, the BHMA had been entrusted with very important and valuable materials. Yet, with a volunteer Board and membership base, keeping and keeping track of those things has proven difficult over the years.
Seth Kaller, who represented David Rubenstein – the purchaser of the guest books, was also on hand to make a presentation and advise BHMA on its historic archives and figuring out what happened with the guest books prior to now.
“We don’t know if these were in private hands 10 years, 30 years or five years back,” he said. “We know these three things are in your hands. We don’t want to discourage you from investigating things. I’ve been on every conceivable side of these issues. It can be extremely hard to litigate these things if you feel things were stolen.”
As a dealer in antiquities and a proponent of having such things available to the public, he advised the BHMA to get its possessions in order, and figure out a way to put them on display permanently so the general public can see them and learn from them.
“You should have these things on display and let students and people put their hands on them and learn from them – not just having them on shelves closed up,” he said.
He also advised to put out a call to the community of Charlestown, those here now and those that once lived here, to see what people might have and what they might be willing to bring in.
Kaller also treated the membership to a viewing of the guest books, an historic Bunker Hill Poem printed document from 1775, and a letter signed by John Hancock announcing the Declaration of Independence to the state of Georgia.
In other business, the BHMA did nominate officers and also a slate of directors, new members and honorary members. The slate was approved.
The Following Is The Recommended Slate Of Officers &
Directors 2021-2022 from John J. Alves Chairman, BHMA, Nominating committee:
Arthur L. Hurley, Charlestown
William Foley, Portsmouth, NH
Kimberly Mahoney, Reading
Daniel Noonan, Burlington
Caroline Wrenn-Shannon, Burlington
Annette Teece, Charlestown
•Secretary: H. David Hennessey, Charlestown
•Treasurer: Thomas Coots, Revere
•Chaplain: Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney, Pastor of St. Francis De Sales Church
Jack Alves, Beverly (President Emeritus)
Prof. Robert Allison, South Boston
Maura Donahue, Charleston, SC
Donna Babine Burke, Londonderry, NH
Joseph Bagley, Boston
Sean Boyle, Charlestown
Lisa McGoff Collins, Charlestown
Christian DiSpigna, Williamsburgh, VA
William Galvin, Esq., Charlestown
Catherine Gill, Charlestown
Maurice J. Gillen, Charlestown
Julie Hall; Charlestown
Donald Hoska, Charlestown
Gavin Kleepsies, Mass Historical Society
Dan Kovacevic Charlestown
Joey Lacey, Charlestown
Paul Lane, Charlestown
Samuel Morris, Charlestown
Kathleen Wrenn-Noonan, Burlington
Timothy Reardon, Charlestown
Robert Bayard Severy, Weymouth
Lawrence Stevens, Charlestown
Richard Young, Charlestown
Amanda Zettel, Charlestown
Michael Creasey, Supt. Boston National Historical Parks
Hon. Maura Tracy Healey, Attorney General
Hon. Daniel J. Ryan, Representative-2nd Suffolk
Hon. Sal Di Domenico, State Senator
Seth Daniel, Charlestown Patriot-Bridge newspaper
Rev. Eric Malloy, First Church Charlestown
Honorable Lydia Edwards, City Councilor