Pam Gasner retires from the Historical Society

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An eclectic museum cannot be replicated, it kind of evolves, one piece of history given at a time until you have created a coveted treasure whose flavor and character cannot be replicated.
This is the Historical Society, with the former double-ender moored on its lawn in the center of town, a monument to the work ethic at sea that remains anchored in the citizens of Block Island all year round, whatever their vocation today.

And while the incredible treasures and stories therein are the work of a legion of volunteers, and the result of hundreds of small fundraisers over the years, it is clearly the work of a lifetime. by Pam Littlefield Gasner, who since 1985 has occasionally driven – glued the place together to create this polished gem of a living history on Block Island.
And what a storyteller and what a story she painted in the nearly 40 years she has invested in the museum, her eyes proudly reflecting a dynamic and warm spirit that few can replicate. Not only is the museum a treasure, but so is it.
After decades of work that began in 1985, she decided to leave her post as Director General of the Historical Society to devote her life to other challenges that time did not allow her to meet. Real tap of facts, I learned more during a two hour jaunt with her on a cold winter day than I could have imagined, those hours interrupted only for her to force the system heating to operate. All with a smile of course, and the jokes of an endearing storyteller.
Over these decades the building has seen its raised roof, beautifully redesigned floors, additions constructed, 23 of the 52 windows removed and put back in place to strict architectural requirements, disabled-accessible entrances and baths installed, a commercial kitchen installed for events of 40 people (Hint: For Rent!), New zoned air conditioning and heating systems have been installed to help preserve the artifacts, while tapping into an incredible base of skilled Block Island craftsmen to accurately reproduce the story. The talent, often offered in five build phases, comes out of its tongue seamlessly and is too plentiful to list: Dan McLaughlin, Greg Schoonmaker, Devean Gwiazdzinski, Johnny Littlefield, Steve Wilk, Gayanne Hall and Pat Cobb, Joe Sprague. The legion of names of people she wants to thank is a chapter book of vignettes in itself. Each, each person, clearly important to the overall success of the Historical Society, but too many for a single article.
And speaking of sustainability, Gasner, in her role as Executive Director, has led or overseen almost all of the grant writing that secured the funds to pay for the majority of the modernization, one grant, one project at a time. . Remarkable, including getting one from the Annenberg Foundation on the very day of his retirement.
Yet her favorite role is undoubtedly the one she sees as “commissioner”. Lamenting that today’s society doesn’t like to read, she would like to find a way to distill information in an engaging way into visual snippets that hold today’s limited attention span. Until then, the story behind each collectible makes her eyes shine as it is remembered how it was purchased, often donated by families digging in basements and attics over 100 years old and discovering generations of gifts they have given. I don’t know what they had or what they were.
Within its walls, for example, you can get information and see all the big hotels that dot the island. But much more, you can feel like you are “in time” with the
very covered used for large weddings, the intricate elegant dresses worn at dinner. We learn that Nicholas Ball, who made his fortune in the California Gold Rush built the magnificent Ocean View Hotel (burnt down in 1966 in a wind-powered fire) and that President Ulysses Grant held a special session of the Supreme Court of the United States on the island so its members would not have to interrupt their vacation by returning to Washington. Can you imagine the circus today of Secret Service agents, FBI, Lincoln Town cars, helicopters, medics, food tasters, and network press staff if this was replenished for a week or so? of them ? To paraphrase Chief Brady of the infamy of “Jaws”, “You would need a bigger island”.
Within its walls, we also learn that the first sustainable villages known year round in all of New England were just north of Andy’s Way thousands of years ago, and they have the artifacts to prove it. The Great Salt Pond, itself a product of rising seas, in turn created subsistence habitat for the rugged Native American Islanders of the time to feed, protect, and grow. An entire area is devoted to their remarkable history, the original name of the island “Manisses”, which translates to “the island of the little God”, which sounds much better than Block Island, a name given by a privateer. vagrant, Adrian Block, who is said to have never even set foot on the island, but named her on his way back to Amsterdam, because the Dutch government said he could do this that he wanted so much that he brought back skins
and furs.
Gasner is hoping the company can raise enough money to digitize all of its documents, a time-consuming and expensive task that will make updating the museum’s rooms, each capturing a different time, visually appealing stories that will appeal to the state. spirit of today. She will remain involved, but a little from a distance. After all, it is his life’s work. But now it’s time to unwind some of the stress of the responsibilities of the job and re-engage in the outdoors with the island she loves.


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