For three years, the Peter J. Booras Museum at the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge has been closed for renovation. The museum contains artifacts from the armed services and it held a grand reopening on Saturday. Don Upton is chairman of the Board of Trustees, and he says he worked hard to reopen the museum. He spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.
Who was Peter J. Booras?
Peter J. Booras was a supporter of the cathedral for many years. He was a veteran. He was a very successful businessman from Keene, New Hampshire, where his family ran a restaurant for many years in the Greek community. He brought many hundreds of Greek people to services at the cathedral—I’m told, in the 70s and 80s, he would bring up to 2,000 people for a service.
So he goes back a long time for the cathedral. To honor him and his family, we chose to rename the museum the Peter J. Booras after him. It’s pretty much the same mission as it’s always been, to honor military folks, those who died and those who served, and we have hundreds of artifacts that have been donated to the cathedral over the last 60 years.
Tell us about some of those artifacts.
In the past, we had all of these artifacts on display, and we wanted to change things a little bit in order to explain to the guests who come to the cathedral what the history of the cathedral is. Now that it’s been there since 1945, there are a lot of people who come here today who have no idea about its founding and how it came about.
One of the factors that the cathedral was founded upon was a young man by the name of Sanderson Sloane who served as a B-17 pilot in World War II, was shot down in February of 1944, and lost his life. He was supposed to come home and build a home on the site where the cathedral is. That didn’t happen, so his folks, Dr. and Ms. Sloane, built a memorial to him. So he has always been honored at the cathedral and we have a nice exhibit about Sanderson and his life, and how he was married shortly before he left. One of the highlights of the museum, I think, is his footlocker, which we obtained in recent years. We also have dozens and dozens of letters that he wrote home to his bride.
So that’s the original intent of the cathedral and the museum, however we’ve decided to also honor his younger brother, Jack, who flew a B-26, and he’s the son who did come home. We have a wonderful display of his aircraft. I was able to obtain his flight jacket from his family, which we have on a mannequin. It’s a very moving display about one brother who was in WWII and lost his life, and one brother who came home and participated in the cathedral over the years.
What renovations might visitors notice if they’ve seen the museum before the renovations?
Well, the museum was complete cleaned out. We had an intern digitize all the artifacts, according to who donated the item, when it was donated, and its box. We used probably 30 percent of the artifacts, so what I feel good about is we have 70% left for another exhibit, as we’ll rotate probably in the next year. We will continue to show the different things that we have over the coming years.
But the museum was cleaned out—all new walls were built, new ceiling, insulation, and the best thing is we put in a heat pump with a dehumidifier and air conditioner, so the temperature and moisture content of the museum is exactly the same 365 days a year. That’s the big difference—we had no control in the past. That will make the artifacts last and be in very good condition.
What do you hope visitors take away from the experience?
We hope that particularly young people will have more respect for the folks that served in the 1940s in the military. We have some artifacts from WWI, but the majority is WWII. We designed it so it’s an education visit for school children, particularly homeschoolers.
On Saturday when we had the opening, we had a number of WWII vets who are still alive and still healthy, who spoke about the different exhibits we have. And they were there, so they can talk from memory. We also hope to use these vets, particularly a few B-17 pilots and crew members of B-17 bombers, to have a fireside chat, hopefully on a Sunday afternoon, and we’ll announce that on our website.