SOUTHINGTON — A man sits at a desk in an ornate study. He wipes his eyes and writes in a diary. We watch. For a moment it feels like we are intruding.
“Please excuse me,” the man tells his visitor. “I haven’t been myself since Leila passed away. The house seems so empty without her.” He writes in Leila’s diary, attaching an addendum to her final entry. “End of world for me … My all gone forever,” he says as he writes.
The man is Bradley Barnes and the year is 1952, 21 years before his death. This moment, brought to life by local actor Charles Miceli, was part of The Barnes Museum’s Living History Tour, held Saturday afternoon at the museum located at 85 North Main St.
The goal of the day’s activities was to give the Barnes family some flesh and blood.
“The Barnes were a wealthy, influential family in town. What set them apart was their philanthropy. They were a close family and they cared about their community. (A living museum) is a special way you can offer more connection. You catch (the Barnes family) in a moment in time,” said Kristi Sadowski, executive director of the Barnes Museum and the Southington Public Library.
Actors were stationed throughout the ornate 19th century home, performing short monologues about a moment in a respective Barnes family member’s life. A docent offered a brief introduction at each room before the actor came alive.
We first meet Amon Bradley, the family patriarch who built the 17-room house in 1836. It’s 1873.
“We’ve been very blessed. Perhaps one of my grandchildren will take over the house. I wish to keep it in the family, you see,” Bradley said, enacted by RM McCarty.
We move up the stairs, encountering Leila Barnes (Bonnie Plourde) in her bedroom as she paints gladiolas and dishes for a moment about wanting to go to an auction near their summer home in Guilford to buy more crystal goblets.
In the dressing room, Alice Bradley (Kelly Smith) gushes about her upcoming nuptial. Fast-forward 30 years, and we see Bradley Barnes as a young man, played by Keegan Smith, in his bedroom, mulling the loss of his grandmother and recalling the toys she gave him as a child. Finally, in the living room, we meet Barnes again, this time as an old man, mulling his legacy and contemplating whether to leave his family home to his beloved Southington community.
Marie Secondo, one of the museum’s curators, crafted the scripts using 52 family diaries as a reference point. The Barnes family meticulously documented their own lives, not only in the
diaries containing their day-to-day affairs, but through keeping every receipt and noting every single purchase throughout their lives.
With this trove of information at her disposal, she hopes to make the living museum a major production, adding the stories of many other family members.
“It’s been phenomenal. This is my 18th year at the museum and it’s as if the family is still in residence here,” she said.