A lantern. A sword. A drum. A handwritten letter.
They may sound like objects in a scavenger hunt, but David Wood’s voice takes on a tone of reverence as he lovingly explains the significance of each one.
Wood is the curator of the Concord Museum, and the iconic items are featured in an exhibition opening Friday, “The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1775.”
The objects have many uses, originated in many different places, and now have their permanent homes in many various collections. But the objects all have one thing in common: Each artifact assembled for the exhibition, which will be on display at the museum until late September, played a part in the action on the day the American Revolution started.
“These 65 or so objects allow us to tell a continuous narrative of the dramatic events of that day,” said Wood. “With these pieces of history, we can read between the lines. What emerges is an understanding of just how vividly [the Minutemen] understood what they were doing on that day, as they went into battle.”
Even Paul Revere’s well-commemorated journey to warn of the British militia’s incursion into the Middlesex County countryside can be better understood through the artifacts that bore witness to the events, Wood said. The artifacts include the lantern that signaled the movements of British troops and started Paul Revere on his ride to warn colonists in Lexington. And there is the drum that 16-year-old William Diamond used to summon those colonists to the Lexington green for the first battle of the war.
“What we are trying to show with this exhibit is how these objects weave the story of just what happened,” Wood said.
This philosophy is very much in keeping with the museum’s approach, according to Susan Foster, director of education for the museum.
“One of the most important ways we teach is by keeping the focus on our objects,” Foster said. “At an art museum, you look at paintings and make connections to what you see and from one painting to another. We are trying to do the same thing with historical objects. We encourage people of all ages to look closely and analytically.
“For example, we might put out a powder horn that was pierced by a musket ball. What do you suppose happened to the soldier who was carrying that powder horn? Who picked it up during battle and had it repaired later? We want visitors to the museum to stop and look at the items — not read labels explaining what they are, but really think about connections to their own lives.”
Somewhat analogous to the Patriots Day battles themselves, in which farmers and gentry from area communities far and wide — Lexington, Arlington, Concord, Acton, Bedford, Stow, Lincoln — gathered together as a cohesive force, so, too, do the pieces in the exhibition hail from across the region. Paul Revere’s lantern is part of the Concord Museum’s permanent collection, but other items in the display were drawn from other museums, historical societies, and even private collections. One item was found in a time capsule buried under the cornerstone of a church in Arlington.
In Wood’s view, it is nearly impossible to look at objects such as these and not get a sense of the living, breathing men who carried them onto the battlefield.
“Two pretty extraordinary things we have in this exhibit are relics from the two Acton Minutemen who were the first casualties at the North Bridge,” Wood said. “One is Abner Hosmer’s powderhorn, and the other was Captain Isaac Davis’s sword. When Captain Davis was killed, he fell, and his sword broke. Abner Hosmer was also at the front of the battle lines, and his family saved his powder horn before eventually giving it to the Acton Memorial Library, which was one of our collaborators in putting together this show.”
Among the items Wood finds particularly evocative is a group of flints, donated 80 years ago to the Concord Museum by an archeologist who discovered them in the field above the North Bridge.
“The archeologist found them in two lines,” Wood recounted. “As the provincial troops were watching the British regulars advance on the bridge, they were given the order to change their flints. At that moment, they had to know what they were in for: ‘This is it; we’ve made a commitment to go into battle.’ ”
Even the title of the exhibition was chosen with meticulous consideration to meaning, Wood said.
“We all know ‘The shot heard round the world’ is a phrase coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in reference to the battle at the North Bridge, but in the context of this exhibit, it means much more than that. This exhibit is about how Arlington and Sudbury and Lexington and Acton and Concord all came together, and our collection of objects reflects the coalescence of the various communities.”
Researching their relevance to the historical events of the Revolutionary War was the task of Joel Bohy, who served as research associate for the show. Bohy, who cultivated a fascination with the Revolutionary War as a child raised in Concord and now serves as a historic arms and militaria specialist for the Skinner Inc. auction house, has his own stories of astounding finds in the course of preparing the exhibition.
He recalled locating a British Royal Artillery cartridge pouch in Arlington, but he had to search out the brass tabs for the pouch with the soldier’s numbers on them in a time capsule box from a Congregational church that burned down in 1975.
“So this exhibit represents the first time in 158 years that the pouch and the brass tabs have been reunited,’’ Bohy said. “When you’re as interested as I am in April 19th, these are objects that make your hair stand on end.”
“The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1775” opens Friday and runs through Sept. 21. In conjunction with the show, curator David Wood will present gallery talks on Saturday and Monday at 2 p.m. For a full schedule of events related to the exhibition, call 978-369-9763 or go to www.concordmuseum.org. General admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8 seniors (62 and over), $8 college students with valid ID, $5 for ages 6-18. Members and children under 6 are free.