With history dating back to the museums’ founding in the 1800s, there is no shortage of interesting facts, well-documented history, and some fun tall tales with a little embellishment thrown in for good measure.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with Jenny Powers, Family Engagement Coordinator at the Springfield Museums to hear some of the most interesting stories that the Springfield Quadrangle has to offer.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The spooky season is upon us, and the Springfield Museums have a collection of true stories and tall tales just in time for Halloween.
With the formation of the museums dating back to the 1800s, there is no shortage of interesting facts, well-documented history, and some fun tall tales with a little embellishment thrown in for good measure.
I spoke with Jenny Powers, Family Engagement Coordinator at the Springfield Museums, to hear some of the most interesting stories that the Springfield Quadrangle has to offer.
Jenny Powers, Springfield Museums: Our visitors have always been fascinated by these old buildings and by the ghosts that may inhabit them, especially the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, because the founders are actually interred, cremated and interred in the walls.
And so, we’ve seen that a lot of other museums and attractions have had good luck with spooky stories, and we wanted to give it a try on our own. We were in a unique place where we could blend real history with these fantastic stories as well.
Zydalis Bauer: In the Quadrangle, there are five different museums on campus.
What are some of the interesting facts that accompany each building?
Jenny Powers: Well, one of the buildings that we have on our campus isn’t currently used as a museum, but it’s the oldest one here.
It was built in 1839, and that house belonged to someone who at one point was the oldest living person in Springfield, Elijah Blake, and he was the father of the Springfield Fire Department.
He was so zealous about fighting fires that when one broke out, he would frequently go up to the roof of a neighboring house so he could shout orders down to that bucket brigade.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, everybody loves a good ghost story, especially me, during Halloween time.
Share with me some of the more mysterious stories that you have heard about happening at the Springfield Quadrangle.
Jenny Powers: Well, I can tell you that myself, working in the oldest building here, I do hear footsteps every single day when there’s no one there.
And also, I sit right next to the Arts of the Islamic World Gallery, and when I have been one hundred percent sure that I am alone in the building, I have heard voices right on the other side of the door next to me.
Zydalis Bauer: And you, as you’ve mentioned, have witnessed some unnatural and different types of things happening at the Quadrangle. But I also understand that you even spent nights there with ghost hunters.
Talk to me about those experiences and how was it spending the night after hours in the Springfield Museums?
Jenny Powers: So, we’ve done that in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum three times. The ghost hunters bring a lot of different equipment, so it takes a lot just to get ready. They also bring psychics with them or people who are sensitive, as well as motion cameras and GoPros and iPads to do all kinds of special things to try to detect ghosts.
I have always felt a special presence with us here in this building. This couple loved their collection so much and they wanted to share it so much that I think that’s the presence we feel. However, it’s been pretty funny to see one of the ghost detectors come on suddenly, change different colors, and one of our security guards jump halfway across the room!
It was very interesting to see the different kinds of things that the ghost hunters connected to perceiving ghosts. Some of the things I think were interesting types of science, and some of them were a little less believable to me.
Zydalis Bauer: Yeah, and speaking about that little less believable, what are tales without a little bit of embellishment of some fun embellishment, right? And the fun part of this is that you have to kind of weed out the fact from fiction and, is fiction, right? We will never know.
So, talk to me a little bit about some of the tall tales that are shared within — some of your favorite tall tales as well. And are they even tall tales?
Jenny Powers: Well, one story that I especially loved went back to that Blake House, and the story was about Mr. Blake being very upset that there had been a rash of burglaries in the area.
And he had all the churches ring their bells on the same day and brought all those city people down and arranged them and said, “Listen, enough is enough. We cannot let this go on anymore. These burglars are terrorizing our neighborhoods.”
So, he assembled a posse and brought them out to where they believed they robbers were hiding out in a cave near what was a campground at the time. And the head leader of the gang came out, Mr. Stevenson, and he walked up and held a gun to Mr. Blake’s head and said, “Leave.”
Mr. Blake was undeterred. He grabbed the gun. He tackled the man and wrestled him to the ground, and then that man and one other were both arrested, brought back to Springfield, charged with seven indictments, and sentenced to life in prison. That is one of my favorite tall tales that is actually true.
I have another tall tale that is actually true. I don’t think we can celebrate Halloween at all without talking about the king of spooky himself, Mr. Vincent Price.
Well, Vincent Price actually donated a 17th century Italian drawing to Springfield Museums that is still in our collection. He was friends with a former curator and donated a double side — double sided red chalk drawing to the collections.
Obviously, works on paper have to rest quite a bit, so it’s not on exhibit right now, but it’s really cool to know that’s there.
Zydalis Bauer: What do you think it is about storytelling that people connect with so much?
And what do you hope they take away from these interesting facts about the Springfield Museums?
Jenny Powers: There are plenty of fun facts, but when they’re not part of a larger narrative, they just don’t stick in the same way. When you build in more details, it becomes more memorable and it’s easier to learn. So, that’s why we do focus on telling a lot of different stories at the Springfield Quadrangle.
Whichever program it might be, as far as the program, I think this is something that just captures people’s imagination. It brings them almost out of reality and into a world of fantasy that we can enjoy while learning at the same time.