Show up for history – and your business!

History Smiths

Earlier this week I attended a watershed event at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where I live. The event celebrated the restoration and first public display in generations of the “Endecott Charter.” This magnificent, 3-foot square, four-page, meticulously quill pen-inscribed document from 1629 is, in a sense, the birth certificate of the United States of America.

Under the authority of King Charles I, the Charter was brought from England to John Endecott in Salem, Massachusetts, to establish his legal authority as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Governor John Winthrop, who arrived in 1630 with his own copy of the Charter, has received more “press” over the years, but the Endecott Charter was here first. It established an American form of self-government that continues to this day.

The keynote speaker for the event, retiring Supreme Court Justice Margaret H. Marshall (the first woman to hold this position!), gave a brilliant summation of Constitutional history in her remarks, showing the line of ascent from the Endecott Charter, to the aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials which resulted in the creation of today’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, to John Adams’ drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780, to subsequent court cases upholding the rights of all people under that Constitution thus ending slavery, to the U.S. Constitution which was based on the Massachusetts version, to today’s Supreme Court and its charge to apply the law equally to all people.

That’s an incredible pedigree for one document!

Long story short, the Endecott Charter was nearly sold at auction a year or so ago. Instead, wiser heads prevailed and the Charter has since been preserved and made public. I doubt its sale into private hands will be contemplated again.

What struck me, though, as I soaked in the importance of the event that night, was not just who was in the room but who was NOT in the room.

There are many, many businesses in Salem, for-profit and nonprofit, that make money off of Salem history. Where were they? And I am not talking about the tacky places. I am talking about the reputable attractions, organizations, and businesses that are part of telling the story of Salem history or that support historical organizations. Where were they?

There were plenty of lawyers in the room, naturally, and good for them! Their presence was duly noted by all. But what a missed opportunity for other business people, and especially for those who claim an interest in local history.

I understand that we are all busy, and there are endless events to attend. But I also know it’s important to figure out which ones count. People in the historical community (your existing and potential clients) really do notice who shows up and who does not. And in our increasingly online world, being present matters!

If local history is part of your marketing strategy (and I hope that it is!), think about which historical events you need to attend in person. When you do, you will make friends and boost your reputation in spades.  These events might be a bit out of the norm for you, but that’s even better! You will really impress the people who wouldn’t expect you to be there. And who are these people? Members of the historical community (trustees, board members, staff, members) tend to be well educated and well off. These are the customers you want!

Please don’t let these opportunities pass you by! “Show up” for history – and for your business.