by Mary Holbrow -
Andrew Diebold (above left) and Frank O’Leary (right) of the Riverside Boat Club looked on as an eager youngster tried out a rowing machine at the Third Annual Cambridgeport History Day in Dana Park.
“Once that handle goes ahead, it takes a lot of strength to pull it back,” he observed. His mother identified him for the photo.
“Call him Jedi Knight – that’s the name he likes best,” she said.
The rowing machine was one of the activities sampled by area residents at the Third Annual Cambridgeport History Day celebration at Dana Park on Sunday, October 2. The event was sponsored by the Cambridgeport History Project and co-chaired by Vice-Mayor Henrietta Davis and Michael Kenney. Originally scheduled for the previous day, it was moved to Sunday because of rain.
The Riverside Boat Club, situated on the Charles River at 769 Memorial Drive, was established in 1869. Rowing was becoming popular then, but most rowing clubs were exclusive and had stiff fees. Riverside welcomed workingmen and immigrants.
A special feature of this year’s History Day celebration was the Pop-Up History Performances series, in which passers-by became on-the-spot observers of reenacted local events from the past. The Riverside Club boathouse was one of the five spots. There pop-up attendees heard Seamus, an Irish immigrant, give a lively account of his adventures on the river.
Another pop-up scene -- this one at the corner of Brookline and Henry Streets -- featured a 1960s activist protesting against the ill-conceived Inner Belt Highway. (Photo, left: the protester was played by Melissa Nussbaum-Freeman) The plan would have levelled a wide stretch of Cambridgeport through downtown Cambridge and into Somerville. It was ultimately abandoned because of the public outcry against it.
“Those planners – they never saw a highway they didn’t love,” the protester said. “They're figuring to destroy 1500 homes and put thousands of others under an elevated highway . . . Would you want to live anywhere near there? No way, right?”
Nearby on Henry Street an 1880s resident extolled the achievements of a neighbor, renowned telescope and lens maker Alvan Clark. Not far away a proud early twentieth century assembly-line worker showed off a Model T and marvelled at the Ford Motor Company's innovations at 640 Memorial Drive, a building now owned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The fifth scene was staged up on Magazine Street near Dana Park. History Day attendees heard a tabloid tale of blighted affection -- the unhappy 1894 romance of prominent citizen Asa P. Morse. (Morse School is named for him.) Morse was sued by his sweetheart, Anna Van Houten, after he accused her of lying about her background and backed out of his marriage agreement.
The five reenactments have been videotaped by Cambridge Community Television (CCTV).
“Once they’re edited they’ll be aired on the station and we’ll get to see them again,” said Cathie Zusy (photo below, right), a board member of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) who served as project director for the pop-ups.
More History Day offerings included tours led by Kathleen (Kit) Rawlins (at left in photo) of the Cambridge Historical Commission; activities for kids; a mystery photo i.d. event; and information presentations by local civic organizations including the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA) Powder House restoration project at Magazine Beach, the Cambridge Community Learning Center, Central Square Theater, Vision Central Square, Cambridge Community Development, Boy Scouts, and the Cambridge Arts Council. There was a book swap organized by Vice-Mayor Henrietta Davis.
Stories and details about vintage photos, artifacts and documents on display were shared by Ms. Rawlins, by Cambridge Public Library Archivist Alyssa Pacy and by Executive Director Gavin W. Kleespies and Michael Kenney of the Cambridge Historical Society.
Another unique feature of History Day was the posting throughout Cambridgeport of “If This House Could Talk” signs with anecdotes and recollections about local buildings by the people who live there. The ITHCT project, now in its third year, was organized by Ms. Zusy, according to CNA President Bill August, who was busy setting up tables and tents in the park.
"We had a lot more signs this year -- about 120," Ms. Zusy said. "They'll stay up through October 9th."
The day ended with a potluck supper and music by the Andy Baer Quartet.
The pop-up performances were written, produced and directed by Michael Schaffer with the assistance of the Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge Historical Society and the Underground Railway Theater- in-Residence at the Central Square Theater. In addition to Ms. Nussbaum-Freeman, actors included Debra Wise, Michael Walker, Keith Michael Pinault and Glenn Moore.
Cambridgeport History Day is sponsored by the Cambridgeport History Project and co-chaired by Vice-Mayor Davis and Michael Kenney. Partners include the Cambridge Historical Society, Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge Arts Council, CNA, Riverside Boat Club, CCTV, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Central Square Business Association, and the Underground Railway Theater-in-Residence. Events this year were funded in part by the Cambridge Trust Company, Cambridge Savings Bank, Forest City, Riverside Boat Club and Mass Humanities.