the Concord Magazine March April 2000
The Ezine for and about Concord, Massachusetts

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To Support the Truth of It: Concord History and Mythology

By Deborah Bier, publisher and editor of this ezine.

We've been discussing the subject privately for well over a year now: how do the documentable facts of the Concord Fight blend with mythology about the American Revolution? How have these helped to forge a sense of identity for America and Americans? It's a subject we've kept coming back to again and again, and finally it's making it to these pages.

Patriot's Day 225th AnniversaryThe "we" are Leslie Perrin Wilson, Curator of Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library and D. Michael Ryan, Concord Minuteman, 18th century re-enactor and historian specializing in the Concord Fight -- both frequent contributors to this publication. And then there's me: not only obviously interested in Concord as publisher and editor of the Concord Magazine, but also an experienced psychotherapist and healer with an intense fascination about the workings of human minds and emotion.

The exhibit "To Support the Truth of It": The 19th of April in Concord Town Records and Library Special Collections will be on display at the main branch of the Concord Library from April 3rd until May 26th (in the gallery; open regular library hours). It is no surprise our library would have a show on the occasion of the 225th anniversary of the Concord Fight featuring items from their collection. But instead of a straight-forward presentation of artifacts, this display explores the telling of "the truth of it"; something that has emerged from our discussions of myth and history. Using dozens of photographs, drawings, paintings, original records, letters, manuscripts, and other artifacts, curator Wilson maps the fascinating journey of myth and history as it has played out over more than two centuries.

This display will demonstrate that some of the earliest blending of mythology and fact came directly after the fight. Within days, sworn depositions were taken by the Committee of Safety of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. These were gathered "to support the truth" of the events on that day. "Although purporting to be unbiased accounts of events as they unfolded, these depositions were collected to present a particular version of the conflicts of April 19th and to generate sympathy and support for the rebel cause," says the introduction to the library's show. From the very beginning, it was difficult to separate fact from the spin that doctored those facts.

This rich exhibit will show the development and use of Concord sites and images as compelling national symbols and icons. It depicts stories -- possibly factual, possibly not -- which cannot be substantiated. It displays documentation which substantiate some of the "facts" as well as other information not widely known, allowing viewers to make their own interpretations, as does each new generation of historians. And it celebrates the high emotion and deep meaning we as Americans attribute to this day in history.

All over the world, people look to the events of April 19, 1775 as a great symbol of the fight for freedom. They have been fodder for all sorts of art, including poetry, song, painting, books...not to mention depictions on television, in movies, school curriculum, and Websites. Given the large number of individuals involved in the reporting, it's not possible to trust all of what we know -- or think we know -- from these sources. Nonetheless, our image of the Concord Fight has become deeply imbedded in our national vision of ourselves as Americans: freedom-loving, courageous, innovative, fighting for a higher ideal. A heady self-image, and one that has proven difficult for us poor humans to live up to. It is the way the 19th of April nourishes our concept of ourselves that is of most interest to me.

Over the next months, Wilson, Ryan and I will explore Concord myth and history from our individual points of view through a continuing series of articles in these pages. However, both these and the library show will not seek to tear down our most cherished beliefs or destroy our view of ourselves -- we will not try to fight "The Battle of De-Bunker Hill" because no doubt we will lose.

Rather, we will seek to expand the popularly-held view that history is "just the facts, m'am." We believe it is much richer and more interesting than that: a quirky mix of fact, fiction, human frailty, anthropology, sociology, politics, and psychology.

Emerson believed all of history is biography; it tells as much about the historian as it does about the historical "facts" it reports. Thoreau published a similar view in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: " is the province of the historian to find out, not what was, but what is." I take that to mean each historian must interpret what is "known" for their own time and understanding.

I enjoy evoking the names of Emerson and Thoreau in this quest, as they are enormous icons and symbols in their own rights. Larger than life and known themselves through a mixture of documentable fact and unsubstantiated story, it is a sweet irony to better reveal one Concord myth through the words of two others.

Text: ©2000 The Concord, MA Homepage
Art: Marcy's Graphics

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