The entry to the Within These Walls exhibition is marked by a blue panel with the exhibition title and a giant magnifying glass. The background of the panel has an enlarged detail of the house. Inside of the magnifying glass is a historic black-and-white picture of the house, which goes in and out of focus as you walk by the panel. It is most in focus when you are standing directly in front of the title panel. The entry panel reads, “One house, five families, 200 years of history.” The exhibition is set up as a large square, with the real house from the historic photographs—the single largest object on display in the museum—at the center. Visitors can walk along all sides of this house and learn about the families who lived in it and how their lives were connected to larger events in American history. If you walk in a clockwise direction, you travel through the exhibition in chronological order.
The Ipswich House’s front façade
This is a real house. Discover five of the families who lived in this house from the colonial era to World War II.
They weren’t famous, but the choices they made shaped their community and the nation. Who were they? What did they do? Look for clues in and around the house.
This house stood on Elm Street in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a coastal town north of Boston, for 200 years. In 1963, community members saved the house from demolition; it was carefully taken apart and the pieces were shipped to the Museum and reassembled.
For this exhibition, rooms in the house have been partially furnished to suggest activities that would have taken place in them. The furnishings are historical, but did not belong to the families who lived here. The exterior clapboards, floor coverings, wallpaper, and hardware are new and adapted from historical examples.
The single largest artifact in the museum, and the dominant feature of the Within These Walls exhibition is a real house. It sits at the center of the exhibition space. The first section of the exhibition focuses on two sets of residents in the mid to late 1700s and uses the front section of the house to tell their stories.
The façade of the house in the exhibition is symmetrical. Originally, there would have been four windows on each side of the house—two on the second story and two on the first story—flanking the center section of the house, which contains a window on the second story, and the front door on the first story. The windows are all colonial style, and are slightly shorter on the second story; they have one less row of windowpanes in them. To fit the house into the museum, a portion of the left side has been removed, and its original size is suggested by metal beams, instead of the original wood timbers.
The front of the house is covered with wooden clapboard siding, which is painted white. The door is painted brick-red. There is a transom with five panes above the door. The pilasters, or side moldings for the door, are meant to evoke simple ionic columns. The door frame is topped by a triangle pediment. The partially open front door reveals the entry and stairwell, which is painted a bright-green. The siding on the visitor’s right-hand side has been removed to reveal the wood framing that makes up the structure of the house into a parlor space, including markings used by the original builders of the home to put it together. The floor joists for the first and second levels are visible, as is the wall framing on the first floor, and the framing and cross braces on the second level. The rooms in the house that are open are partially furnished to suggest activities that would have taken place in the house during different times in history. Soundscapes and silhouettes projected on the walls in each of the five sections inhabit the house, bringing it life and sound while also giving more information about what was going on in the house during each of the five time periods that the exhibition covers. For example, in the parlor, which focuses on the year 1765, a pedestal table and tea set invoke taking tea. The silhouettes show the Choate family entertaining over tea, with details like steam coming out of the teacups and the background sounds of indistinguishable conversation.
There are two main sections of the house; the main house and the kitchen ell off the back of the house. The kitchen ell is an older house that was incorporated into the main house at the time of its construction. It has windows with diamond shaped panes and wooden siding of a smaller width than the main, colonial section of the house.
Attic door, c. 1760s
The attic door is in a case along the wall of the exhibition, titled “Whose Liberty? Chance Bradstreet,” which explores the life of Chance Bradstreet, an enslaved resident of the house who was fourteen years old in 1777. The door sits at the back of a tall glass case, off to the viewer’s left-hand side. As the case is all glass, you can see through it to an enlarged passage from the will of Abraham Dodge on the back wall. You can read that Dodge instructed his wife, Bethiah, should inherit “all my right to the service of my negro man Chance.”
The bottom of the attic door is hidden behind an exhibition text panel, and an ax and a model of a sailing ship are mounted at the level just above the panel in the same case. All are objects related to activities in which we know Chance Bradstreet engaged. The door itself is made of what looks like two planks with two horizontal pieces of wood with beveled edges nailed across them. One of the planks is wider than the other. It is much more rustic looking than the doors from this time period in the lower rooms of the house. The door has been painted white, but it is very worn and scraped away in some places, particularly on the lower two-thirds of the door. There are some words written and scratched into the wood surface of the door. While many of the words are indistinct or faded from years of wear, the words “Please Keep Out” are visibly scratched into the middle section of the door. You can also see nail holes throughout the door. Right under the top horizontal piece of wood that holds the door together is a hole that goes all the way through the door. The door would have led to the unheated attic, where Chance likely slept.
Right above the lower horizontal piece of wood is a bow-shaped handle, made of metal, with a latch tab on the top of the handle that would have held the door closed (when the door was closed and the tab was not pressed) or allowed you to open it (when you pushed down on the tab).
Square piano, Massachusetts, about 1830
The Caldwells had a piano in their parlor, a sign of a cultured home and of Josiah's particular talents as a singing teacher. The ladies of the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society probably grouped around it to sing antislavery songs.
This piano sits in a corner of the portion of the exhibition about the Caldwell family, who lived in the Ipswich house in the 1840s. The piano is rectangular in shape, made of rich mahogany wood with metal accents, and is slightly larger than a standard upright piano someone might have in their home today. The piano sits along the outside wall of the exhibition on a light-colored wooden platform against a sage-green background. The piano has tapered, sturdy-looking, turned wooden legs with vertical fluting. The tops of the legs are decorated with scrolls, making them look like columns, and there are casters at the bottoms of the legs. The keyboard is slightly off to the left-hand side of the piano. Centered above the keyboard is a small brass plaque that says, “J. Chickering, Boston.” On the far-right side of the piano, where there are no keys, you can catch a glimpse of the strings inside the piano. They appear to run horizontally across the instrument.
In the center of the piano, coming down from the body to the floor, is a wooden piece shaped like a lyre (a harp-like instrument), that holds two pedals for the piano. The piano has forty-three white keys, and thirty black keys. Standard pianos today have fifty-two white keys, and thirty-six black keys, so this piano does not have as large a range as a modern piano. An attached music stand extends above the keyboard and is made of the same type of mahogany as the rest of the instrument. The music stand looks like a rectangle, divided into four equal pieces, and currently holds the sheet music for an abolitionist song titled, “Get Off the Track.”
Proximity fuse, about 1945 Gift of Mrs. Marjorie A. Cope
This proximity fuse is in a case along the outside wall of the exhibition. This section talks about the Scott family and their work on the home front during World War II. The proximity fuse sits on a pale wooden box and is about the size of an adult hand. At the top of the proximity fuse is a translucent, green, cone-shaped piece, and you can vaguely see components through the green material. At the bottom of the green part, the cone-shaped piece continues in metal material. That cone-shaped piece then sits on top of a metal base, with threading on the part closest to the cone-shaped tip.
There is a pre-printed label on the base piece of the proximity fuse. It reads in block capital letters “The Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, takes pleasure in presenting…” Here there is a blank where “M_. Cope” is typed in. The first part of the name is unreadable, because a little part of the label has come off there. The pre-printed label then continues, talking about how the proximity fuse was presented in recognition of service during the war.
The proximity fuse sits in front of a large Philco radio, which has a wooden case, and brought the news into American homes during the war.