Linden Place Museum was the first venue to confirm an appearance by me for a reading, Q&A, and book signing with Inheriting The Trade. This wasn’t the first stop on the tour, but the first one booked. This was significant to me because there have been some serious concerns by some supporters of Linden Place about just what Katrina Browne and her filmed journey with her family–Traces of the Trade–intended to do in portraying this historic DeWolf family mansion and the town of Bristol. Katrina’s intention, and mine, from the beginning, has been to tell the truth about the history of this family, this town, New England, and all of the United States without trying to lay blame, guilt or fear on anyone. Our goal has been, and continues to be, to ask people to do some serious self-reflection regarding issues of racism and other forms of oppression that continue to plague us today, and then enter into a deeper conversation, as individuals and as a nation, regarding what should be done to heal historic wounds.
I was excited about coming to Linden Place and then heard the weather report over the weekend. A Nor’easter was heading for New England. Being from the west coast, I’ve never experienced one of these fabled storms before so–other than the fact that it could impact people’s ability to attend the event at Linden Place–I was quite looking forward to it. I also have another admission to make. They say that something is always going to go wrong when an author embarks on a book tour. I got that “something wrong” out of the way early. When I left home we had four inches of snow on the ground so I was wearing my snow boots. It wasn’t until I had driven four hours toward Portland, Oregon that I realized these were the only shoes I’d brought. My boots will keep my feet warm down to 32 degrees below zero. It was 70 degrees when I arrived in Washington, DC last Tuesday. It was warm in Durham and New York as well. So the thought of snow provided an extra thrill for me.
Then I made another mistake. I got on the wrong subway train in Queens (note to self: next time you intend to get on the “E” to Manhattan, don’t get on the “F” going to Coney Island; you might miss your Acela train to Rhode Island). Imagine a man fully prepared for a huge winter storm in a sweatshirt, heavy jacket, gloves, and snow cap, sweat pants underneath blue jeans, and snow boots with two pairs of socks, running two long New York blocks along 34th Street from Herald Square to Penn Station, lugging a 45 pound suitcase and two large carry-ons. I made it, barely, just in time, and drenched in sweat, for the train to Providence, and got my cardio workout to boot.
But I’ve digressed long enough. Helen Nadler, my 6th cousin once removed, picked me up at the train station. It felt good to slosh through the snow to her car. My boots were finally doing their job. We spent a relaxing afternoon in front of a fire in her living room, staring at the snow covered bare branches of the trees surrounding her home. We ate a delicious bowl full of hot fish chowder she prepared for dinner, and then made our way to Linden Place. The weather in Bristol was the worst in the morning. By evening the roads were pretty well clear. It was just cold. So who knew how many people would still come out?
My rough estimate is that about 50 people braved the cold to gather in the Linden Place Ballroom to listen to me read excerpts from Inheriting the Trade, and engage in the stimulating conversation that followed. I spoke with several people I’m distantly related to, and many who either support Linden Place or were interested in the subject at hand.
I spoke with one board member and several volunteers and supporters of Linden Place who said they are making plans to include a permanent exhibit about the roles the people of Bristol, including the DeWolf family that built Linden Place in 1810, played in the slave trade. I believe such an exhibit, done well, will increase interest among people wanting to learn the whole truth about our nation’s founding and subsequent history.
Deb Howe, who along with her sister Mary helped me edit my initial manuscript down from 1500 pages to 450 (my editor at Beacon then helped me get it into its printed form of 272 pages), came down from where she lives south of Boston. I was so glad to see her. Deb, Helen and I decided the perfect way to finish the evening off was to have a nightcap at DeWolf Tavern, the fine restaurant located in the completely renovated building that once housed the DeWolf warehouse two centuries ago. So we did.
Tonight’s event at Linden Place was filmed by Book TV and will be shown on C-Span 2 sometime in the next several weeks. Once I know the schedule I’ll post it here.
I have one full day now in Boston before I head west with several family members, production staff, and Traces of the Trade supporters for the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. I will do my best to post reports from Sundance pretty much every day. I’ve never been before and I suspect I have many friends who haven’t either. So I’ll try to give you a flavor from one person’s point of view: mine (the only one I have…)