Museum focuses on 19th century pop stars

MILFORD – They were the Beatles of their day – the most popular entertainment group of the 1840s.

Milford’s home-grown Hutchinson Singers brought their perfect four-part harmony to more than 11,000 concerts in the United States and Europe, including an anti-slavery rally in Boston thaht attracted 20,000 people.

The Singers – John, Judson, Asa and their sister Abby – are now best known for their progressive political songs that promoted abolition, women’s rights and workers’ rights at a time when Milford was a center for the abolitionist movement.

“These guys were on a first name basis with Frederick Douglass,” said Charlie Annand, of the Milford Historical Society.

Annand, with Marcia Nelson and Bonnie Gondola, recently renovated the Hutchinson Singers room of the Carey House, the Society’s museum. It was the first renovation since the room was installed four decades ago.

The women painted the walls, re-arranged furniture, weeded out duplicate items and arranged for best exposure everything else, including musical instruments, photos, clothing, and miscellaneous items such as Abby’s high school spelling book.

The Hutchinsons’ double bass viola is propped against the wall, and their cello, made by William Darracott, of Milford, is attached to the wall with an ingenuous device created by Michael and Sheryl Homola after a nearly disastrous try at attaching the cello to the horse-hair plaster wall.

For the original Hutchinson display, created in 1979, Nellie Webster Galloway, a direct Hutchinson descendent, donated and set up many of the items in the room, including scrapbooks and her own narratives.

Because there were 16 Hutchinson siblings, and they all married and most had children, “we were lucky to get anything,” Annand said.

One item in the room that catches everyone’s eye wasn’t donated: Words and music of the Hutchinsons’ best known anti-slavery song,“Get Off the Track!” is painted on the wall. The song took an old racist tune and added new anti-slavery lyrics.

Marcia Nelson designed it, Bonnie Gondola did the caligraphy, and Charlie Annand painted it.

The three women had worked together before – on the Carey House’s eclectic upstairs exhibition that includes a technology wall and exhibits highlighting Milford’s extraordinary neighbors, a famous bank robbery and fire equipment over the years.

The Hutchinson project only took about a month, but it was the most physically laborious task the curators had ever undertaken.

Display cases only have openings in the back so the heavy furniture had to be moved for items to be added or removed. The green paint came after unhappy tries with shades of reddish-purple paint they decided looked “sickening” when applied to the walls.

But they also had a lot of help. David Nelson, a Civil War historian from Wilton, helped move furniture, along with Chris Thompson and Greg White. Sue Dahlen sewed the window treatments.

The Hutchinsons’ story “is a Milford story, and the room deserved a new look,” Annand said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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