“The story of the Boal Mansion is the story of America” -- an America that some worry is being slowly buried beneath fast food restaurants, plastered over with an obsession with pop culture so focused on the here and now that it more often than not excludes the how and why we arrived here.
The story of the Boal Mansion tour guides is the story of a few Americans who, like the multitude of explorers and innovators they recall, act in accordance with a vision of bringing the glories of the past to the present. Each day we embark on a mission to enlighten and excite the hundreds of visitors we are blessed with each year about our own collective past.
For almost three years I have shared in the privilege of belonging to the community of volunteers here at the Boal Mansion. As an enthusiastic student of history who had read every book in the local library on the American Revolution by age seven, and who today overloads her high school schedule with social studies credits, and watches both documentaries and Downton Abbey with a devotion one might call religious, by the conclusion of my first introductory tour at mansion, I was thoroughly sold on volunteering here.
Marta and French visitor Louis de Menthon, age 15, race for the Frisbee on the pond field at the Boal Mansion Museum.
During my time here, though, I quickly discovered that working at the Boal Mansion reminds one of all the best aspects of America -- and not just those of the past. I have encountered all manners of people, between my fellow, enthusiastic docents, the gracious individuals who aid with special events, and, of course, the visitors. Be it “Joe from Ohio,” a couple on tour from Australia, a decorated veteran, or the retired history professor I had the daunting task of serving my first tour, interacting with the visitors never fails to add interest and flavor to each venture.
The best feel like rediscovering long-lost friends, as we muse over Mathilde’s intricate daydress, laugh at my feeble attempts to sing “pop goes the weasel” in the country life exhibit, or pause, awestruck, in the chapel. At the end of the best tours, I’ve not only shared the rich story of this estate, but also gleaned some new nugget of information which I eagerly anticipate passing on to the next guest.
Marta Millar (far right, standing) after a lively game of Frisbee with the French, including (far left, standing) Louis de Menthon, heir to the Menthon Castle in France where Marta is guiding tours in July.
The thousand-year-old Menthon Castle in France, where Boal Museum docent Marta Millar will live throughout July 2014 as a guest of and volunteer for the Count de Menthon.
No matter how polite or intriguing a guest is, though, unfortunately (for them) the fleeting time in their company never equates to the pleasure of that spent with the French students who visit each season. Befriending and passing time with our guests is always one of the highlights of my summer.
Between matches of ultimate Frisbee under the blistering sun and delightfully frightening rounds of Ghost in the Graveyard at night, one finds the beginnings of friendship. Despite differences in who we are and where we come from, we share the same joys and laughs.
Of course, differences in culture don’t entirely vanish. There are grins as we order grossly “American” burgers on grilled donuts at Baby’s or tease each other over accents while trash-talking during Frisbee. But at the end of the day, the only tears shed are those of farewell as our new friends head home… with the promise to write soon.
The Boal Mansion has been far more than a job on the side for me. It’s a place for reflection on the desires, struggles, and determination of humans throughout the ages. It’s a chance to step outside of the box -- or blanket chest -- while taking a chance, acting boldly, and putting on a show while weaving the tale of the tour or dancing the Virginia Reel at the Columbus Ball.
Indeed, it truly is the story of America, because here, just like in this great nation, we form a community, unhindered by the barriers of distance, be they between countries, or the past, present, and future; here all can exist together. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Editor's Note: Throughout July 2014 Marta will live at the 1000-year-old Menthon Castle with the Count and Countess of Menthon and guide castle tours for them.
The Menthon Castle was the childhood home of Jeanne de Menthon Boal (1989-1984) wife of Boal Museum founder Pierre Boal.
Interested? Prospective docents, adult or student, can contact the Boal Mansion Museum at 814-466-9266 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be an orientation for new docents on April 18, 2014, at 10 am to Noon with refreshments and a free tour.