On some weekend
I spent two hours strolling along streets I thought I knew well – the streets that have now become more familiar and intimate, thanks to the tour given by a local amateur historian guide. Dee dedicates all her free time to studying our town’s documented history, discovering people after whom our streets, squares and plazas have been named. Impersonal before, with her help, these places rediscover their "biographies."
One such house, built in 1834, we were invited to visit by the current owner. That was an unexpected treat – we got a rare chance to see the original, nearly pristine, interior, untouched by repairs and alterations. Only a computer and a television set reminded us that we were not in the 19th century.
On Sunday, one of my students who is learning Russian invited me to visit an evangelical church in a small town on the Atlantic coast, where he works as the church organist. This student is a descendant of crystal manufacturers of the town of Gus-Khrustalny, a second generation American who speaks almost no Russian. Now, after several invitations to visit Russia, he is learning the language of his ancestors.
This small town called Hingham really surprised me with the sense of its profound wellbeing, abundance of yachts and luxury homes. It is not surprising that Hingham’s first settlers had been the British in the 16th century. The history says that an ancestor of President Lincoln resided in Hingham at the time. I can now understand why the town boasts a lovely statue of Lincoln. The town itself is named after a Mr. Hingham.
The Church of St. John the Evangelist, beautifully situated on a hill, was founded in the 19th century, but the building, in which it is now housed, was built as early as 1920. Its rich interior with wood carvings, made by an Italian sculptor, stained glass windows, metal light fixtures and ceiling in the shape of an upturned boat reminded me of the church in the French town of Honfleur. The latter is built on a much grandiose scale. Its architect Edgar Walker employed the so-called neo-Gothic construction in the Tudor style.
The furniture was gifted to the church by Ethel Thayer, the widow of the dean of Harvard Law School.
The town of Hingham is currently populated by businessmen, lawyers, doctors, some of them descendants of the people who settled there almost five centuries ago. My student told me that one of the church choir vocalists lives in the same house where Lincoln’s relatives used to live; I would think she’s extremely proud of that fact.
This place makes one long to return to this “country of well-being,” and to get better acquainted with its residents and its history.