The curious visit an Open Archives event at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House in 2019.

Cambridge Open Archives is on Instagram Live, offers access to ‘Morbid, Morose and Macabre’

By Talia Franks

The curious visit an Open Archives event at the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House in 2019. (Photo: History Cambridge)

Cambridge Open Archives, sometimes called the Cambridge archives crawl, is an annual free event put on by the Cambridge Historical Commission that offers members of the public the rare chance to visit unique archives throughout the city. In the years before the Covid-19 pandemic, most archives set up displays of special collections materials – photographs, correspondence, documents, maps, art and more – while staff were on hand to tell stories and answer questions. While there were many benefits and things to love and look forward to about the in-person events, there was also the issue of access, accessibility and those who could not attend because of their daytime commitments.

This year, the celebration is a bit different, with archives instead opening their virtual doors to the public via Instagram Live. There they answer questions about their work and offering viewers behind-the-scenes peeks into the collections they’ve dedicated themselves to preserving and sharing.

The online event will lack many of the things we love about the in-person Open Archives, but the virtual nature opens it up to those who might never have had access had they been bound by location. The asynchronous nature of the recordings live on beyond these Instagram Live events, and the ability of those watching to interact with archivists through questions and comments opens new avenues for learning and expression.

Every year of Open Archives has had a theme, and 2022’s is “Morbid, Morose and Macabre.” Viewers are encouraged to join in the Halloween spirit as we explore Cambridge’s more haunting, shocking and unnatural histories.

Due to the darker nature of this year’s theme, organizations will include content warnings in presentation announcements and pinned comments on each Instagram Live. Please be advised by these as necessary.

Participating collections include:

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Cambridge Historical Commission

Join the Cambridge Historical Commission in delving into the darker side of its collections. It will show you the intricate, fine wares of William Lockhart’s Casket Co., learn about Cambridge’s bereavement industry and discover the bloody history of the “Two Gallon Club” – if you dare! Content warnings for blood and death. (This event has occurred, but you can watch the recording!)

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Astronomical Photographic Glass Plate Collection

The Astronomical Photographic Glass Plate Collection of the Harvard College Observatory offers information from items in its collection about the sinking of the S.S. Robin Goodfellow and the resulting loss of lives and cargo. “Sea” you there … (This event has already occurred, but you can watch the recording!)

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Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site

There is a Reaper, whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.
– Henry W. Longfellow, “The Reaper and the Flowers” (1839)

The Longfellow family mourned deeply their many losses to death’s sickle, both the “flowers” lost as children or as young adults and elders. The manuscript and museum collections at the site preserve the family’s reactions and reflections on bereavement. Join an archivist on Instagram Live at 11:30 a.m. Monday. (Follow Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site on Instagram to be notified when the event goes live!)

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Cambridge Public Library

The depths of the Cambridge Public Library’s Archives and Special Collections can reveal the 19th-century library director who haunts the Main Library, tell of a ghostly Inman Square party featuring civil rights activists and display the nightmare rendering of a stitched narrative by a 20th-century feminist quilter. (Follow the Cambridge Public Library on Instagram to be notified when the event goes live!)

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Mount Auburn Cemetery

Join Mount Auburn Cemetery at 6 p.m. Wednesday to learn more about its historical collections and archives of the dead. (Follow Mount Auburn Cemetery on Instagram to be notified when the event goes live!)

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History Cambridge

History Cambridge will explore the haunted history of its headquarters, the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House. What spirits are said to linger there, and what can these ghost stories say about those who perpetuated these haunted tales? Join at 11 a.m. Thursday for an Open Archives presentation of those stories, as well as a few of the creepier items from its collection. (Follow History Cambridge on Instagram to be notified when the event goes live!)

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