It has been a crazy ride for this scrappy band of Cape Codders. Our series, Hit and Run History: The Columbia Expedition, has gone from just the barest of documentary ideas in 2008 to today as the centerpiece of the history site of a PBS-powerhouse.
With a great reception by audiences to our second episode this spring, we caught a break. At one of our last screenings, held at the South Shore Natural Science Center, we were approached by a content producer at WGBH. She asked if we would consider doing our show as a web series.
We started in a month later on a collection of eight short biographies. This series wouldn't be our old episodes cut up for the web. Instead, they'd be profiles of lesser player in the story of the first American voyage 'round the world.
Captain John Kendrick, born on the shores of Pleasant Bay, may have commanded Columbia when she left Boston Harbor on October 1, 1787, and Third Officer Robert Haswell of Hull may have written the log, but we were looking now to the men behind the venture. The dreamers who inspired it. The capitalists who financed it. The other officers who would run it.
That brought us up to the Massachusetts Historical Society and Boston Public Library Special Collections Room in June, the Massachusetts State House and Fort Griswold outside New London in July, Manhattan and Brooklyn in August, and to the Naval War College in Newport in September.
The series premiered in early October with our introduction on "The Medallion" -- the rarest and oldest of all American medals, the Columbia and Washington Medal. It was minted in Boston in 1787 to commemorate the first American voyage around the world. Today, less than 20 survive.
I've been working on the story of John Kendrick and the Columbia Expedition for 15 years, and it is great to be able to bring this story to a wider audience. Books have been written in the past, but the story has always seemed to elude the greater public consciousness. As we worked on Hit and Run History, we realized it was because, despite a compelling story of adventure at the dawn of the American republic, it was being told in the typical armchair historian style that would typically drive away younger audiences.
We needed to get out there, show how this story can be encountered here and now in small places. Be Gumshoe Historians and as we say "Practice History without a License".
Talk about what motivated these guys. Visit their homes. Show how you do this. Make them and the story relatable. And from what we've been told time and time again my audiences, educators and museum staff -- we've done it. We've cracked the code of Columbia.
Plus, we get a chance to use the music of local bands. For this one, we were very happy to set it to Boston rocker Shea Rose's "Free Love".
Photo #1 credit: Jay Sheehan; Photo #3: Feleke Astatkie