Shawn P. Ford
Ford is the vice president and executive director of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, which hosts a free grand-opening celebration June 25. The museum opens to the public June 26 (timed tickets required; call 855-832-1773 or visit www.bostonteapartyship.com).
Q. The museum was struck by lightning and destroyed in 2001; it caught fire in 2007 from sparks on a bridge construction site. Twice is enough, right?
A. Yes. This is a state-of-the-art building with alarms and fire suppressant systems and materials. It’s the 18th century meeting the 21st century.
Q. How else is it different from the former museum?
A. It’s about 2½ times larger, and the original had one ship, the Beaver. This site has the Eleanor, and we start building the Dartmouth this summer. There’s Abigail’s Tea Room with elegant tea carts and tea ladies serving pastries and scones. And the tea ladies gossip in the corner saying things like, “Did you see John Hancock last night?”
Q. Were any valuable documents or artifacts lost in the 2007 fire?
A. No. The site had already been closed so we had removed everything. The only things lost were postcards and rubber lobsters!
Q. How does the museum experience explain the Boston Tea Party?
A. The single most important event that led to the American Revolution is told in the past, present, and future. Visitors take on a role of someone who was there and learn about the events that led to Dec. 16, 1773. In the present, guests meet Paul Revere and go on the decks of the ships for a reenactment of the dumping into Boston Harbor. For the future, it’s the morning after the Tea Party, and the experience is about events that led up to April 19, 1775, the shot heard around the world.
Q. How close is the museum to the site of the Boston Tea Party?
A. It’s within 100-to-200 feet.
Q. What’s the first thing visitors see when they approach the museum?
A. A slate roof, teapot weather vane, and the cobblestones where they get their first taste of colonial characters. One rings a bell on the balcony, bringing the meeting to order.
Q. How is the museum interactive?
‘The single most important event that led to the American Revolution is told in the past, present, and future. Visitors take on a role of someone who was there.’
A. When visitors march down the gangways to board a ship they see Paul Revere and tea crates. They’ll be reminded of what we are about to do: “Are you brave, are you strong, are you with us? Lift these tea crates so high into the air and yell so loud that King George will hear us, and on the count of three, dump the tea into the sea.” The guests throw the crates in.
Q. How does technology enhance the story and the museum?
A. Inside the museum, two women walk out of a wharf scene — one is a Tory, the other a patriot. They tell why they support their husbands and then disappear. Up until that point you think they are real. In the portrait gallery of patriots and famous people, portraits of King George and Sam Adams come to life and the two argue.
Q. What interesting facts or tidbits might surprise folks about the Boston Tea Party ?
A. Most people think [the Boston Tea Party] was over tea and taxes, but it had everything to do with representation. And there were more than 300 crates of tea tossed into the harbor, so to make sure the contents were destroyed, they chopped every lid off, poured the tea into the harbor, and tossed the crates. It was low tide that night and [the tea] actually created a little island, so they had to get into row boats and further destroy the tea.
Q. What’s your favorite item or part of the museum?
A. The Robinson Tea Chest that was tossed overboard in Boston Harbor. It will be on display in the same body of water in which it was destroyed years ago.This interview has been edited and condensed. June Wulff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.