, Salem, MA

Local News

September 8, 2007

Old Town House holds a host of odd North Shore tales

MARBLEHEAD - When high-flying actress Tallulah Bankhead was arrested on a drunk and disorderly charge in Marblehead, officers didn't have a jail cell for women. Instead, they incarcerated her in the women's bathroom, posting an armed guard outside the door for the night, recounts Lt. Dave Millet, who runs the Marblehead Police Museum.

That's just one of the many tales coming from within the storied walls of Marblehead's Old Town House, which has hosted Revolutionary plotters, George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette and others in its nearly three centuries of existence. The building is getting a fresh paint job and other maintenance work - its first spruce-up since it was dressed up to greet the USS Constitution 10 years ago.

"It's one of the most historic structures in the nation," Millet said, pointing out it's been continually used as a voting place since 1727.

Now home to an eclectic collection of museums, the Old Town House has been open to the public more this summer than it has been in years. Most of the museums will remain open in the fall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday; the Grand Army of the Republic and Civil War museums will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and Saturday, Sept. 15.

Millet, the community services officer, moved into the former farmers market, town hall, courthouse and police station in 2003.

"My intention was to have an office and storage," he said. He paused. He smiled. "Once I got the office here, after a few weeks, I started sensing these Colonial guys yelling at me, saying, 'This is more than just you.'" The police museum followed.

Pam Peterson, director of the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society, said the Old Town House served as a rallying point for soldiers going to war. It also hosted Town Hall, where then-President George Washington was greeted on a visit.

Peterson helps oversee the Grand Army of the Republic meeting hall on the second floor, which still looks as it did when the last of Marblehead's Civil War veterans held their final meeting in the 1930s.

"It's extremely rare," she said. "... There are other GAR posts, but none that remain like this time capsule."

One room features weapons and uniforms, while the other room features memorabilia in what was the GAR meeting room.

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