Monday, April 21, 2008

A new story

I've often written in this space about Darrow, the boarding school where I spent three years in the 1960s. Its history is odd and fascinating; the school itself is a National Historic Landmark, with many of its building comprising the first Shaker community in the U.S. The Shakers, more formally known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, once numbered 6,000 members living in 18 major communities in eight states. But because they were celibate and gained new members only by conversion and adoption, the sect largely died out by the early 20th century, and now only a handful remain in the community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

We teenage boys cloistered there in those days treated our school's Shaker heritage like an embarrassing family secret. The idea of celibacy was incomprehensible; we were obsessed with losing our virginity, not preserving it. We did our best to ignore the history, but we could not escape it. The Shakers first came to that Berkshire mountainside in 1781, and 100 years later had built Utopia. Then they dwindled, disappeared. We felt the chill of their presence in the dark corners of old buildings, imagined their whispers in the damp woods.

"The Shakers selected this spot for a purpose, " writes Cheryl Moore, an art teacher and theater director, on Darrow's Web site. "Something intangible happens to you here. You see poppies in bloom that were originally planted by the Shakers 200 years ago, and you feel a tremendous connection."

The community became the Lebanon School for Boys in 1932, and was renamed Darrow School in 1939. I'm wondering, now that a number of my own classmates have died, if someday, perhaps even now, the students at Darrow feel the chilling presence of not just the Shakers but the students of long ago.

That place has been worn smooth by humanity; it is rich in experience; its stories need to be told. I'll tell you a few of them in the next series, starting tomorrow. As with all of the series, I know how this one will start put not how or when it will end. Feel free to jump in and comment and offer up your own memories of coming of age. We'll call this one "The Spirits of Lebanon."


K2 said...

I lived with the Maine Shakers during the winter of 2006/2007. There is something very special that happens to a person when he/she lives in the shadows of old Shakers. Thanks for writing about your experiences at Darrow. Karen

Dale Lolley said...

I've always wondered how a group like the Shakers - known for their celibacy - thought they were going to survive as a group.
It certainly takes away a large portion of your new recruits if you're not adding children to the fold.