An actress, a president, iconic Boston cuisine, and even a ghost inhabit the final project of two students studying Boston’s historic houses.
Students Kaila Mallard and Marcus Baker focused their research for a course on Boston’s Historic Houses on the landmark Omni Parker House, the longest continually run hotel in America, a Boston landmark since 1855, and a Suffolk University neighbor.
They reported their findings through videos that the Omni Parker House plans to showcase during an upcoming exhibition in its history gallery.
Baker and Mallard worked closely with hotel historian Susan Wilson and Boston filmmaker Mike Bavaro as they delved into research for the history course taught by Nancy Holcomb.
Not only did they come to a deep understanding of the history and social significance of the historic hotel, which has played host to an array of stars—from Charles Dickens to Babe Ruth to Yo-Yo Ma—but in creating their videos the two Suffolk students also learned how to interview people, operate a camera, and edit the material into engaging video presentations.
Of ghosts and movie stars
Mallard recorded Guest Service Manager Seamus Murphy—who described a haunting experience in Room 555—and Senior Bell Captain Eddie Cotto—who recalls that singer and actress Judy Garland was a generous tipper.
“This project taught me how important it is to engage with people who have a longtime history with the hotel,” said Mallard of the two hotel stalwarts who joined the Parker House staff as teen-agers and now have a combined 89 years of services. “You learn more by going out and interacting with these people than you would out of a textbook.”
Mallard, a rising senior majoring in history and applied legal studies, had visions of becoming a history teacher before taking this course, but now says that she may follow a different path. “This class has opened my eyes to other options in the history field, like working at one of the historic homes,” she said.
Recipes of world renown
Baker’s final video project featured Executive Chef Gerry Tice, who runs a kitchen that once employed Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Emeril Lagasse. Tice described the three layers of butter that make the famous Parker House rolls so tender, listed some of the ingredients for Boston cream pie, and pointed out the often-requested dining room table where then-Sen. John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier.
“I learned so much from a communication perspective—knowing what questions to ask, what shots to use, the lighting and audio setups, and the editing process,” said Baker, a senior history and economics major. “It definitely gave me a lot of confidence in my communication skills.”
Holcomb said that her students’ hard work, commitment, and flexibility resulted in successful projects.
“While working with people they didn’t know, Kaila and Marcus responded incredibly well,” said Holcomb. “They accepted technical advice on their camerawork and ideas and changes to their scripts. They always met their timelines and were very open when asking for help.”
Historian Wilson called the collaboration “a win-win between our historic hotel and Suffolk University. We all learned a lot and enjoyed each other’s skills and enthusiasm.”
Among the other historic house projects completed by students in Holcomb’s class this past semester were:
- A PowerPoint presentation on the Colonial Society House of Beacon Hill for Boston By Foot, which will be shown to groups unable to visit Boston for the organization’s walking tours
- Blog posts focusing on unusual kitchen utensils on display at the Gibson House in the Back
- A plan to increase the use of social media at the Nichols House on Beacon Hill
- A biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s uncle, Henry Wadsworth, a sailor in the US Navy who was 19 when he was killed in the Barbary Wars—in collaboration with the Longfellow House in Cambridge
Holcomb said that the Suffolk community cherishes its partnership with the Boston-area historic houses.
“Through the network students built by visiting these sites, they have been able to get jobs in many of these historic houses,” she said.