Monday, October 22, 2007
In late September, before leaving for Kentucky, I gave a talk on "The Victorian Pantry" at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Preserved as a Victorian house museum since 1957, Gibson House was built in 1860 on the newly-created flats of Boston's Back Bay and remains today as a time capsule spanning many decades, especially the Victorian era. Like the most successful of historic house museums, Gibson House was left intact with family furniture, objets d'art, letters, books, photographs: the things that make a home.
For several years in the mid-1980s while I was living in Boston and attending graduate school at Boston University, I had the chance to live and work in Gibson House as a resident guide. I had the fifth floor servant's quarters to myself, more closet and drawer space than I'd ever had before, or since (where linens and extra clothes were stored), an opportunity to get to know a unique home while living in downtown Boston with few expenses. The experience of living and working there was life-changing for me in many ways: personally, in my career, and was even the subject of my first published article in Victoria Magazine in 1990.
In the early 1990s I was hired by the Gibson Society to complete a study report on the interior of the house and its architectural and social history. It later became the template for nomination as a Boston Landmark and National Landmark status. Their website is a well-produced backdrop for the house and its place and importance in Victorian domestic history (and of course there are several pantries, which were good to see again!).
I had not been back to the house in about fifteen years. The place seemed smaller but that old shut-up house smell was there, what my daughter Addie, now 19, always called "that Gibson House smell": warm and woody with echoes of a simmering past. I was glad that my husband, two boys, and several great friends were able to be there. It was an odd sort of homecoming.