Pilgrims, Wampanoags, Suffrage And World War II

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Local History

David and Attaquin Weeden assemble a Wampanoag wetu on the grounds of the Atwood Museum on Stage Harbor Road. COURTESY CHATHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Despite Late Pandemic Opening, It's A Busy Summer At The Atwood Museum

CHATHAM — At long last, the Atwood Museum, Home of the Chatham Historical Society (CHS), has opened its doors to visitors on a reservation basis with exhibitions on topics as varied as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, women’s suffrage and the end of World War II.

“We’ve got quite a lot of new stuff coming out this year,” says CHS Executive Director Danielle Jeanloz. A total of 14 exhibits can be seen in 12 galleries.

The museum opened late this season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and special procedures will be in place. Despite the pandemic, 2020 is a major anniversary year. It is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing and the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S.

The main exhibit is called “The Turning Point: The Wampanoags and the European Settlers.” The “turning point” refers to the fact that the Mayflower turned around off Chatham and sailed north to land in Provincetown. As a part of the exhibit, the Mashpee Wampanoag father/son team of David and Attaquin Weeden is building an outdoor wetu.

A wetu is a domed hut that the Wampanoags traditionally constructed out of sticks of red cedar and grass and used for temporary shelter. When the Mayflower passed off the coast of Cape Cod in 1620, wetus would have dotted Chatham’s landscape. Weeden was trained at Plimoth Plantation and is building the wetu as an independent contractor, Jeanloz says.

The wetu is outdoors near the Fresnel lens and financed by a grant from the Kemper Family Foundation. Weeden, who is a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council member and a Mashpee selectman, built parts of the structure off-site. He has been assembling the wetu at the CHS using supple tree trunks, rope and bark. He has estimated that this is the first wetu in Chatham in 250 to 300 years.

Historically, wetus were not built as permanent structures. This one will be a winter wetu and it is expected to last for seven or eight years before needing repair. “The thing is incredibly well-built,” Jeanloz says. “It’s just beautiful. It’s a work of art.”

“The Turning Point” exhibit is a dual one, illustrating the hardship on the long journey by ship from England, and also showing what the Pilgrims found when they arrived on Cape Cod.

“With the 400th anniversary a lot of us with a focus on history are trying to bring in the Wampanoag story,” Jeanloz says. “How helpful the people were to the European settlers.”

As you enter the main gallery, an exhibit highlights the Wampanoags, with sunrise photos serving as a backdrop to the “people of the first light.” A timeline runs along the walls, with a text in the Wampanoag language. Also here is an audio profile of Mayflower passengers, with actors portraying the passengers. Maps outlining the journey hang on the wall. And in the center of the room is the ship’s sickbay, complete with antique medical instruments, illustrating how cases such as scurvy, bloodletting and childbirth were dealt with on shipboard.

In the Durand Room, the exhibit “Remembering Our Heroes: the 75th Anniversary of the End of WWII,” looks at the end of World War II through an audio/visual experience. A centerpiece of the exhibit is Alice Stallknecht’s dramatic painting of wartime president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some of Roosevelt’s speeches will be played.

Stallknecht was an Expressionist-style painter who lived in Chatham from the 1920s until her death in 1973. Her painting depicts Roosevelt seated behind radio microphones with an American flag and the Washington Monument in the background. The exhibit also tells the story of two boys who, while shooting birds in the woods, found netting and a radio used to communicate with German U-boats during the summer of 1942 on Morris Island. Included in the exhibit are uniforms and WWII memorabilia from Chatham residents.

And finally, in the Old Atwood House, CHS volunteer Florence Seldin, a former member of the Chatham Board of Selectmen, has designed an exhibit honoring the 16 Chatham women who were pioneers in registering to vote. A mannequin is used to show how a woman would have dressed in 1920, and the names of the 16 women are on the wall. Seldin has said that her mother was 15 when women finally were allowed to vote, and that suffrage made such an impression on her that she “voted religiously and taught her kids to vote religiously.”

“It’s nice when you can take a landmark event and make it local,” Jeanloz says.

To visit the Atwood Museum, Home of Chatham Historical Society, 347 Stage Harbor Road, Chatham, you must book a reservation through chathamhistoricalsociety.org. Reservations are available Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Visits will last for 80 minutes. Face masks must be worn at all times in the museum; visitors must agree to social distancing guidelines and come only if they are feeling well. Hand-sanitizing supplies will be available and careful cleaning measures are in place. Adults are $10; students age 8 to 18 are $5; members and children ages 7 and under are free.