MADISON — The Madison Historical Society is up to its old tricks again. Or should I say new tricks?
Ever since curator Karen M. Lord arrived several years ago, the sweetly old-fashioned edifice just south of where Route 113 curves west back to civilization has been mounting some meticulously organized exhibits using artifacts from local collections.
Last year was a quilt retrospective, and it was a veritable primer in quilting, from the antique wedding-ring pattern to log cabin and picnic quilts.
Two years before that was “Wedding Dresses Through the Years,” perfect for a summer exhibit.
Now, the historical society’s former 19th century townhouse serves as a perfect foil to “A Century of Games,” items of which are displayed on kindred artifacts, such as settees, desks, church pews and even an old wooden coach.
This is another slam dunk from Lord, along with historical society president Linda Smith and board member David Wilkins, who have spent countless hours gathering, cataloguing and readying items lent by local residents for the display.
Who knew Madisonites were such gamers?
Apparently, Lord and Smith did.
“We live by a lake. People play board games on rainy days,” Smith pointed out.
“Game nights are getting popular again,” Lord added.
It makes sense that people with lake houses (or mountain cabins, for that matter) would store board games there for long, rainy summer days.
Whatever the reason, the collection they have put together is not just a century of games, but in some cases even a century and a half. The exhibit includes A Trip to Paris, a circa 1857 form of Jeopardy! with questions and answers on tiny, elegant cards; The Game of Snap, (a type of gin rummy, with pairs of cards that match, dating back to 1880); and from 1900, Jack Straws (alias Pick-Up-Sticks).
These fragile, old games are safely behind glass. But as you travel through the exhibit, the displays get increasingly hands-on, with old Monopoly pieces, dice and tops sitting out-and-about. Thus, Smith said, children will be asked to “keep their hands in their pockets.”
In all, over 200 games are on display — although it’s worth noting that not all are games per se. “There are some toys,” Lord noted, “because they were too beautiful not to share.” These include wooden alphabet blocks, early Erector sets and jigsaw puzzles (including some early ones made by Fred Stevenson at the Three Pine Picture Puzzle Co. of Silver Lake).
Along with the age and variety of the objects, another thing that’s cool about this collection are the different iterations being shown. For example, there are Monopoly sets from 1935, 1961, 1994 and 2002; Clue games from the 1950s through the 2000s; and Parcheesi from several different decades.
There are old classics — backgammon, chess and mah jongg; mid-century classics such as Tiddly Winks, Operation and Candyland; and newer classics like Pictionary, Boggle and Trivial Pursuit.
Then there are some more obscure ones you may not remember, like Farkle or Pit (“Parker Bros.’ Frenzied Trading Game”), which seems to be aimed at future commodities traders.
Most fascinating of all is the fact that all these treasures are on loan by local families, including Mary and Mark Lucy, Cheryl and Paul Littlefield, Robin Hain and Shirley Dutton.
Of course an exhibit this amazing must be kicked off with an amazing party. The grand opening celebration is set for Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at the museum. Refreshments will be served.
Also mark your calendar for the Teddy Bear Picnic on July 6 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Bring your favorite Teddy bear of adopt one. Food and games.
In addition, as quaint and charming as the old townhouse is, it's a bit lacking in amenities. The society is currently mounting a “Buy a Band; Help Us Build a Room” capital campaign to help pay for a climate-controlled room in which to house their exhibits. For $1 you can purchase a fashionable pink bracelet.
"A Century of Games" will be on display through Sept. 2.
The Madison Historical Society is open Tuesdays from 2-4 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day at 19 East Madison Road.
For more information, go to madisonhistoricalsociety.org.