What a refreshing change it will be to have a governor who sees the value of Connecticut's history and can speak in poetry as well as prose. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy dedicated almost one-third of his inaugural speech to Connecticut history — and not just the obvious stuff.
This, however, was not the first time I have seen Gov. Malloy's deep understanding of the connection between the state's astonishing historical resources and what we can gain culturally and economically from state pride and civic attachment.
During the campaign, Malloy spoke at a forum on culture and tourism. I was almost dumbstruck by the clarity and apparent authenticity of his effusions on Connecticut (see "Malloy Rochambeau" on YouTube): "We have bests in lots of categories. You want to talk about historic travel? Rochambeau in Lebanon; a thousand war meetings at Trumbull's house; the invention of the industrial revolution at the Colt factory where Ford came to study what was taking place. This is the Constitution State. We have attractions spread out equally across the state. … I love this place. I'm going to make it better."
Delivered with inflection and emotion, it sounded like he really meant it. How revealing: Although Connecticut heritage aficionados know that Lebanon is an epic, must-see, bucket list destination, most residents probably haven't been there and don't know the historical nuance of what happened there. It occurred to me, Gov. Malloy has to have been there; not just breezing by on the campaign trail, but as a citizen-tourist, possibly with his family because, well, as he put it: "I love this place."
The ability to reach for a well-chosen story — particularly when drawn from the rich reservoir of our history — says a couple of things: 1) that Malloy uses stories and analogies to lead, inspire and cajole and 2) that he truly knows and cares about this place.
During his inaugural speech, Gov. Malloy spoke of being "humbled by the sense of history that lives within the soul of our great state" and of being "intrinsically optimistic about our prospects for a prosperous future which itself is worthy of the foundations that our ancestors worked so hard to give us. And what a foundation it is! In our innovative heyday we had more patents issued per capita than any other state in the nation. We defined the American industrial revolution on a global basis and consequently enjoyed the highest per capita income of anywhere in this nation. We will forever be the home of world class legacies such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Eli Whitney, Prudence Crandall and so many others."
He concluded with a parable about Abraham Davenport, a political luminary in Colonial Stamford who "chose to be found doing my duty" — a story the governor apparently learned from a recent exhibition at the Stamford Historical Society!
History is not about the past. It is about our relationship to the flow of life in our place and times. In the 19th century, Gov. Richard Hubbard, advocating for the statue of Nathan Hale that graces the east foyer of the state Capitol, argued that "a people who forget their defenders in the past will lack, and deserve to lack, defenders in the future."
One might apply the same principle to a great many things including our need for generosity, restraint, civic ambition, job creation and the rekindling of our tradition of ingenuity. An inspirational history can help propel an aspirational mission and purpose. But you have to know and care.
At the height of the Great Depression, another governor with this gift, Wilbur Cross, helped our people through hard times by inspiring them to link arms in celebration of a colorful and storied past. In times like these, that quality can make all the difference.
William Hosley of Enfield is a preservationist and cultural resource consultant who specializes in American art and antiques, and is a member of the Place Board of Contributors.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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