June 25, 2018
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Bangor Museum and History Center getting a museum makeover

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A week after selling a rare collection of annotated Massachusetts newspapers from the Revolutionary War era at auction, the Bangor Museum and History Center continues its plan for a resurgence in the Greater Bangor Region.

And BMHC executive director Jennifer Pictou wants to emphasize this strategic plan does not involve a “fire sale.”

“A couple weeks ago, the Portland Press [Herald] picked up on this and did a number on us, saying it was all for money and we’re just out to sell some stuff and make some money,” said Pictou. “We really want to make it a point to reassure the public that we’re not just selling things off. That’s not what we’re doing.”

“The reduction of objects in our collection is solely based on if it fits our mission and collection policy, if we have the space and ability to care for it, and if it meets our obligation to residents to maintain the preservation of Bangor’s history,” she added.

The plan has two goals: To consolidate and clean out items that have little significance to Bangor history or are too costly to maintain and preserve, and to promote the museum with a more noticeable presence in the Bangor area.

“Our maximum capacity is about 40,000 objects,” Pictou said. “We have a moratorium on collecting objects right now because we just don’t have any room.”

That’s not to say the museum won’t take any more items.

“We will continue to acquire things and uphold this historical integrity of Bangor,” said Pictou.

“And if they happen to be the size of a thimble or stamp, even better!” she joked.

Pictou said the Harbottle Dorr volume IV collection of annotated Massachusetts newspapers from 1772 to 1776, which the museum has owned for almost 100 years, is a perfect example of something that benefited the Bangor Museum more with its sale than its retention.

“That was a particularly tough decision for our board to make, but the bigger issue there is it did not directly relate to Bangor and its historical specifics,” Pictou explained. “They weren’t in a condition that was optimal for exhibit and we don’t currently have the space to exhibit such an artifact. And with the Massachusetts Historical Society, which already has volumes one through three, being the winning bidder, they now have the complete set and can display it and give it its proper exposure.”

Bangor Museum also made about $300,000 on the sale (winning bid was $300,000 and final cost with fees and taxes was $345,000). That’s likely much-needed money for the non-profit organization located at the Thomas A. Hill House at 159 Union Street.

“To help us with the rest of those 40,000 objects? Yes!,” said Pictou. “We still have space constraints, but the release of those newspapers does help trim our storage cost with climate controls, pest control issues, and other maintenance concerns.”

Pictou said the money will go back into the museum to help strengthen and preserve the items it already has.

Whether or not that money could be used to further renovate and develop the former Merchant’s Bank Building on Broad Street, which was donated to the museum by a Veazie couple six years ago, into a future home for the museum is unclear at present.

“It’s still on hold,” said Dana Lippitt, museum curator, referring to the renovation effort. “I don’t know what the plan is with that. I think the board is still looking at some options. We still own the building outright, we raised $3 million for renovations, and spent about $1.5 million, but it’s on our back burner right now.”

The four-story property facing West Market Square offers six times the space with about 12,000 square feet compared to 2,000 at Hill House.

“If it up were to me, I would dump the whole thing into the new building, but that’s my personal opinion,” said Lippitt. “There’s a board meeting coming up next month and we’ll see what they decide.”

October will mark the start of the next phase of the museum’s heightened promotional campaign, which kicked off April 30 with the Great Fire of 1911 exhibit that remains open through Sept. 30. That exhibit is housed in a temporary location at 73 Central Street. The museum will host Halloween-themed presentations Oct. 27 and Nov. 1 titled “Macabre Happenings at Hill House” and another titled “Embalming and Edgar Allen Poe” on Oct. 29.

The Macabre Happenings event will teach participants how to read portraits taken of the deceased, interpret epitaphs from Mount Hope Cemetery, decipher the language of memorial needlepoint, and explore the art of hair jewelry. The Embalming program will focus on Victorian funeral practices and early embalming techniques in this 90-minute program (at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.). Participants will experience a dramatic reading of an H.P. Lovecraft short story and hear the tale of Samuel H. Dale, former owner and ghost said to haunt the Thomas A. Hill House.

“We’ll be opening our doors a little more and getting out into the public more with public programming,” Pictou said. “We want to take part in school programs as well as public meetings, presentations with schools, workshops, and talks and discussions with local clubs and organizations.”

The Bangor Museum and History Center is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Further information can be found on the museum’s web site at www.bangormuseum.org or by calling 942-1900. Admission is $3 per person and children under the age of 12 are admitted free.

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